Need for Speed (based on the popular gaming franchise) is about as conventional as these crime actioners come. Since the game franchise of the same name doesn’t really have a storyline, and is just racing during dynamic gameplay – the writers come up with a mediocre story for it. It isn’t anything special, written by first-time writer George Gatins. His brother John Gatins (Coach Carter, Flight) worked on the story, but it’s a shame he isn’t the screenwriter. His resumé shows he’s stronger.
The film follows Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a street racer and mechanic who spends two years in prison for GTA and manslaughter, the latter is a crime of which he is innocent. Left to take the blame by wealthy business associate Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper in an underwhelming turn), Tobey jumps parole and travels to California in order to take part in a legendary underground race called the De Leon, with clearing his name and revenge in mind.
Being the slime Dino is, he places a bounty on Marshall’s head to prevent him from taking part in the race. As you can tell, he doesn’t play fair. Why would anyone want to be in business with him in the first place? At the beginning of the movie, he brings a business opportunity to Tobey and co., that, if they can refurbish a Ford Mustang largely from scratch, they’ll get 25% of the $2+ million pay day. Marshall’s motivations for this business endeavour is to save his late father’s auto repairs shop. At least the main character’s motivations are clear and well-established.
Sometimes we don’t get that privilege from other action movies, so at least we get a likable protagonist in Tobey. Also on his list of motivations are vengeance for the death of his friend, and beating Dino on the race track in the De Leon. It looks like all conflicts are solved on the race track, at least that’s what these racing flicks want us to think. (I’ll need my driver’s license to ever solve conflicts, and until then, I’ll always lose!) I think Tobey is likable because he cares about others and he puts them ahead of himself. Aaron Paul portrays him with subtle fierceness and kindness shown towards his co-star. He’s a natural actor and an appealing lead.
Joining him on the trek is Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), the assistant of the man who bought the Ford Mustang for $2.7 million dollars two years ago. She’s going along on the trek because her boss doesn’t want an ex-con in the car on his own, yet he will lend the expensive car to him in the first place. It must have been in the contract that if the seller ever needs to use the car because he just really needs it, the buyer must lend that party the car, as long as the assistant can tag along. Yeah, makes sense…
Julia’s phobias allow Tobey to be his comforting self. She’s not always a damsel as she holds her own in this actioner by driving the car away from antagonists in a scene or two. She’s also a character that shows women can know some things about cars. Poots is a charming actress, so the chemistry between her and Paul is strong, even though their characters are practically strangers.
This is mostly a road trip movie where cops chase ’em (enabling a police chase aspect from Hot Pursuit to present itself) and they run into many obstacles along the way, like people trying to collect the bounty. At least they’re usually in a fast car. There is a cool sequence where they gas up without stopping. They also defy gravity along the way, maybe not as much as Fast & Furious 6, but there’s one scene where you’re just going to question the plausibility of it. At least it looks cool. Jack of all trades director Scott Waugh (director of Act of Valor, he’s much more experienced in stunt-work, with 41 credits to his name) directs the races well. The visuals of the film are pretty good; there’s a limited amount of CGI used, so that’s nice. The fact that there’s not a lot of CGI makes it more apparent that the 3-D version is just a disposable money grab. Please see this in 2-D, because it’s too dark and sometimes ugly in 3-D.
The film keeps the revenge theme throughout with generic plotting and lots of comic relief (much of which is found in Scott Mescudi’s character), so it’s consistent tonally. Michael Keaton has fun portraying Monarch, the energetic host of the De Leon. The finale is that race with a few distracting aspects but it’s a cool all-or-nothing race for pink slips nonetheless. It takes a while for the film to get to this race. (The film clocks in at 132 minutes; trims on the beginning could cut this down to 120 minutes, because it takes about 25 minutes to actually get into the plot.) The finale’s one of the best parts of the film, so most will think it’s worth the wait, at least those who have a tolerance for mildly fun time-passers.