Posted on Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 by Germain Lussier
Movies based on video games usually suck. They frequently graft dense, stupid stories to the tropes of a given game. In doing so, the soul of the game is lost, and you don’t care about the story, either. Need for Speed, on the other hand, finds a near perfect balance. There’s a story, but it contains just the bare minimum amount of logic and drama to make two hours of near non-stop racing believable.
Aaron Paul‘s lead character, Tobey Marshall, is given a motivation, enemies, and the push of a ticking clock. He pretty much sits behind a wheel for the whole movie, but it’s exciting. From the opening moments, Need for Speed puts the pedal to the metal and never lets up.
The most obvious comparison people will make with Need for Speed is the Fast and Furious franchise. Of course, this movie probably wouldn’t exist if those weren’t grossing billions. Need for Speed distinguishes itself by being even more about racing and cars than that franchise. It feels smaller, more succinct, yet it probably contains more actual racing than all six Fast and Furious combined. That racing also feels grittier because director Scott Waugh shoots action practically as often as possible. When a 900 horsepower, $2 million dollar Mustang is E-brake sliding through a crowded gas station parking lot, you tense up because it’s happening for real.
You wouldn’t care, however, if it weren’t for the story; the one from screenwriter George Gatins wrote works well. Tobey, a talented local street racer, is framed for the death of his friend. The man doing the framing is Dino, an evil pro driver played by Dominic Cooper. After serving his prison sentence, Tobey immediately starts hatching a plan to get even. His means is a highly competitive, secret, and highly illegal street race. The only problem is, it’s on the other side of the country and he has two days to get there.
So basically because of one race, Tobey has to do a second race to get to a third race. Yes, Need for Speed is that kind of movie. You have to buy into its tone. The second you take yourself out of the fun, realistic action, the plot is incredibly thin and vulnerable to be massacred. It works, however, because the stakes feel high, there’s always tension, and Aaron Paul is damn charismatic as a leading man. That was one of the biggest question marks going into the film. Could he follow Jeese Pinkman, and thrive in a lead role? Rest assured, Paul is cool, confident and commanding as the lead.
The supporting performances all work, too. Imogen Poots is a great foil for Tobey. His crew members – including rapper Scott Mescudi, and Rami Malek – are perfect comic relief. They’re all second fiddle to the main story, but that’s okay because they serve their purpose well.
Despite some issues, Need for Speed surely ranks among the best video game adaptations ever. It never takes it self too seriously, but also takes itself just seriously enough. It’s predictable, frivolous and all kinds of dumb. But the logics of the plot melt away as you enjoy this expertly made, fun, action film. Need for Speed is a hell of a ride.
/Film rating: 7.5 out of 10