Need for Speed is the latest video game series to get turned into a film, following in the footsteps of such “classics” as Super Mario Bros. and Doom. This time around it’s a racing game series, which typically don’t have plots (the last four, or so, Need for Speed games have shoehorned one in, though).
I’m not a huge fan of the video game series, but there is a very distinct moment in my head from 2002 when I first played Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 on the Playstation 2. I am leading the pack in a race, the cops are behind me, I just barely clear some spike strips, and there is a full roadblock ahead of me that I have no way of getting around. A police chopper appears above me and drops an oil barrel. The barrel’s explosion forces my vehicle into the air and I clear the roadblock. It’s twelve years later and that killer moment is still framed in my mind as one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in a video game.
Sadly, the Need for Speed film never fully delivers that adrenaline rush until the big finale, which is one of three races in the film. That’s perhaps the biggest flaw: the film opens, not with a race, but character development. It never grabs the audience until much later in the film – around the half hour mark – when the revenge plotline kicks in.
Basically, Tobey is framed for a murder he didn’t do so to get revenge and clear his name he tries to get into this super secret, invite-only race. The problem is he’s in New York City and the event is taking place in 44 hours in California. He’s forced to bring along Julia, a pretty British blonde played by Imogen Poots. She’s cute in the role but the script never requires her to do much.
Aaron Paul is the driving force behind the film, playing our lead character, just coming off the super hot show Breaking Bad. This guy has serious acting chops, and a good range of emotion, and all of it is wasted on this half-hearted script that really tries to be more than a Fast and the Furious clone, but in the end becomes a boring experience because of it. He’s not bad, but the script just isn’t well written, and an actor can only do so much with what he is given.
The film clocks in at over two hours, and could have used some serious cutting. There are plot points made, and then they just vanish. Scott Waugh directs (Act of Valor) and the racing scenes range from snooze-fests to completely ridiculous. There’s this scene involving a helicopter that had the theater rolling with laughter. Actually, most of the big action moments, outside of the big finale, had the theater laughing because they are just that unbelievable.
At no point is Need for Speed a good film. It falls in line with the lower end of video game films, and because it doesn’t have a real fan following like, say, Tomb Raider or Final Fantasy, I don’t see a sequel being greenlit. It’s a shame that Aaron Paul is completely wasted here, and to add salt to the wound, Michael Keaton’s role is small and subdued.
I watched Need for Speed in 2D, and at no point did I get the feeling that it would be worth the 3D experience. I even forgot it was offered in 3D until the last ten minutes or so. If you’re a fan of car flicks, this might be worth your time, but in all honesty, just hold off for 3 months, and then rent it.