Fresh from prison, a street racer who was framed by a wealthy business associate joins a cross country race with revenge in mind. His ex-partner, learning of the plan, places a massive bounty on his head as the race begins.
What’s one way to save a movie filled with terrible dialogue, poor acting, and a clichéd revenge plot with a less-than-intersting love story? Get Scott Waugh to direct the best stunt racing film ever.
Need for Speed is an adaptation of the classic EA Games car racing franchise. In this film, Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) runs a garage in New York with his uninteresting and slightly annoying buddies, where they build and tune sexy performance cars. The garage was inherited from his father, who dies before the events of the film, but we don’t really care about that relationship anyway. The garage is financially going under, and if they don’t raise enough money for bank payments soon, it’ll have to close, but we don’t really care about that either.
Tobey wins a local illegal street race, and earns enough from the winnings to scrap by for a very short time. It’s at this race that Tobey’s former local rival, who is now dating his ex, Anita (Dakota Johnson), who is also the sister of Tobey’s team member Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), shows up to remind Tobey that he’s the bad guy in the film. Dino is now a big shot in the racing community, and the next day, shows up to Tobey’s garage with an unfinished Ford Mustang that real-life auto designer and entrepreneur Caroll Shelby was working on before he passed away. He needs a shop to complete the work so he can sell it at an auction, and knows Tobey’s team is the best crew for the job, despite their sordid past. Dino tells the team that he plans to sell the car for $2,000,000 minimum, and that he’ll give them 25% of the final sale price for their efforts.
Tobey goes against the wishes of his crew and accepts the offer. He’s doing it for his dad. Wouldn’t you? At the auction event, Tobey meets Dino’s lady friend, the very charming, and very British Julia (Imogen Poots). She knows lots about cars, so that makes her a catch in this film. The Mustang has a potential buyer, but it will need to be tested out on the tracks to see if the top speed of 230 can really be reached. Tobey zips around the track the following day, and Julia clocks his speed at 234mph. Everyone agrees that Dino would never have been able to get the car up to that speed, which pisses off our Disney villain, and an illegal street race is proposed by Dino to prove them wrong. If Tobey wins, he gets 75% of the now 2.7 million dollar offer, and if he loses…nothing. Tobey agrees to this deal, because Tobey is stupid and there’s still over an hour and a half left in the film.
Tobey and Little Pete go to Dino’s pad to select their vehicles from three illegally imported European Koenigsegg Agera cars. In this all-or-nothing race, who Little Pete is also competing in for a very clear reason, which you’ll understand in the next section of this sentence, Dino bumps Little Pete’s car, and Little Pete flips up in the air, falls over a bridge and dies in horrible flames. Tobey, who was in the lead, gives up his chance at winning by flipping a bitch, in true Jesse Pinkman bitch fashion, and goes to check on Little Pete’s mangled remains. Dino, however, does not turn around, and in classic Dino Bambino style, finishes the race and drives away forever, hiding the car so no one but the audience will ever know how evil he is.
Tobey goes to prison for a couple years for illegal street racing, while Dino continues being successful. After Tobey’s release, he plans on finding Dino…and racing him…with revenge. An eccentric host of an underground radio show, known as DJ Monarch (Michael Keaton), has organized a huge race in San Fancisco, an invites Tobey over the airways to be its final competitor. This gives two days for Tobey, with the help of Julia, to drive across the country in the Shelby Ford Mustang, which she was able to acquire, and join the race. Tobey’s team member Benny (Scott Mescudi) does what he always does for Tobey, flies planes and helicopters he gets from God knows where to survey the traffic and plan the best routes for Tobey to take on the fly.
The rest of the film involves watching the relationship underdevelop between Tobey and Julia, the support Tobey’s team continues to show him while not getting their hands too dirty, and the inevitable big finale race against Dino. He’s doing it for Little Pete. Wouldn’t you?
In summary, anything not taking place in a vehicle is dreadful to watch. I know Aaron Paul can act. I watched every Breaking Bad episode like the rest of America, and he did his best to do that here with the terrible dialogue he was given. I know Michael Keaton is great at playing eccentric characters, and he did his best to do that with the terrible set and zero character interaction he was given. I also know Hollywood continues to produce films that have zero substance but a lot of fancy flare, and it did its best to do that here with unnecessary buttocks, the stereotypical black guy friend, clueless cops, and shiny, beautiful vehicles.
However, despite my sarcasm and what seems like a terrible review, this is still a must-see in theaters movie, especially in 3D. The driving scenes are phenomenal. I actually hate cars. I’ve never understood the appeal. I’ve maybe looked under my own hood twice since the year began, but that didn’t matter. Not enough can be said for stunt coordination, precision drivers, and camera team who pulled off such amazing shots. I lost count of how many cameras must have been destroyed creating some of the in-your-face action. The sound design team also deserves special mention, as the rumble of the engines and sounds of the cars whizzing by definitely put me on edge. There were almost no visual effects or green screen images used for this. What you see on screen is what happened, except for some fire elements and other less noticeable additions. The drivers really went the speeds shown, for the most part, and the actors did a lot of their own driving. Director Scott Waugh, who also did the zero substance but amazing action film Act of Valor, has worked in stunts and stunt coordination for nearly thirty years. The reason Need For Speed succeeded in every action element it attempted was due to his expertise of how to bring action together.
Many stunt coordinators also serve as second unit directors, taking over those adrenaline-fueled scenes to bring the directors’ visions to life in ways they wouldn’t be able to do on their own. As Hollywood continues to produce these thrill rides, I hope more stunt coordinators and second unit directors with stunt experience are put into the big driver’s seat.
Also, as I touched on earlier, the 3D is amazing. I have the benefit of working at the studio who did all the 3D on this film, Stereo D. That’s the same company who re-imagined Jurassic Park 3D and Titanic 3D for their re-releases, do most every Marvel movie in addition to dozens of others, and have a ton of exciting, action-packed Blockbusters set to release this year. The 3D only added to this experience. It was never distracting, and in a film where depth is so important for big racing landscapes and intimate interior car shots, I was happy to see such clean 3D.
So, don’t expect to come away from this movie feeling any emotion to any character, but the film really showcases the danger and excitement of what it’s like to drive recklessly through our nation, exactly as the EA Games would want. You’ll be tempted, as I was, to get into your car after watching the movie and speed away as fast as you can. The filmmakers even put a warning message at the end not to attempt anything shown in the movie. I hope people respect the artistry of coordinating what was on screen enough to not endanger themselves and others on the road this weekend. Just enjoy it for what it is: something really fun, at times, to hold us over until Captain America: The Winter Soldier releases on April 4. That’s when the real fun begins.
This review was written for Film Combat Syndicate by Darren Bailey, actor, writer, stunt coordinator and co-founder of Thousand Pounds Action Company. Follow Darren Bailey on his official Twitter and Facebook pages.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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