NEED FOR SPEED
DIRECTED BY Scott Waugh
STARS Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper
HIGH INVENTORY: There's a reason the press kit for Need for Speed includes only 30 pictures of the actors but 45 of the cars. (Photo: DreamWorks)
Based on the best-selling video game series, Need for Speed isn't fast and furious as much as it's hyperactive and mildly ticked off. The Vin Diesel-Paul Walker (RIP) F&F franchise may not be high art, but in its best moments, it's high entertainment — a claim that can't be made by this increasingly idiotic picture that could easily have been titled Dumb and Dumber had that moniker not been snapped up nearly two decades ago.
Aaron Paul, attempting to launch a film career now that Breaking Bad has wrapped, is asked to do nothing but glower and grimace as Tobey Marshall, a mechanic who hangs around with his annoying sycophants (Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez and Harrison Gilbertson) at his failing garage. His former nemesis, a slick suit named Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), offers him a lucrative job of rebuilding a classic car, but once their macho pissing contest begins, there's an illegal street race, one of Tobey's crew gets killed by Dino, and Tobey ends up taking the rap. When Tobey emerges from jail a few years later, he's hellbent on getting revenge on Dino, so he opts to challenge him in an underground racing tournament masterminded by a mysterious figure known as Monarch (Michael Keaton).
Writers John Gatins (Oscar-nominated for Flight) and George Gatins provide plenty of side incident, doubtless in an effort to dissuade people from dismissing this as merely a movie based on a video game. Among the extraneous — and tedious — material is the nugget that Tobey's former sweetheart (Dakota Johnson) is Dino's new squeeze, not to mention the sister of Tobey's slain buddy. One of Tobey's pals lands an office job but quits by stripping completely naked (his daft reasoning: "So I'll never think of going back"). And tagging along with Tobey for much of the movie is Julia (Imogen Poots), a British car broker who shows her smarts in an early scene but then is treated like a bimbo by the other characters for the remainder of the movie. Because, you know, women drivers.
It's commendable that much of the vehicular stunts and chases were filmed with actual cars and not CGI wizardry (director Scott Waugh is himself a former stuntman), but it's hard to enjoy the mayhem when it's presented in such nihilistic fashion. For a popcorn picture, this is rough stuff, with our ostensible heroes so wrapped up in their vainglorious escapades that they aren't concerned at all with how many civilians and police officers they might have killed (and in one scene, after they come this close to plowing down a homeless man, they all share a hearty laugh over the near-brush with vehicular manslaughter). Obviously, audiences aren't expected to reflect on this sort of thing, and usually it's easy to swat it away like a fly. But because the movie is one of those chest-puffed-up pieces about codes of honor and manly manifestos of morality, its protagonists come off less like heroes (or even anti-heroes) and more like petulant brats who get upset when Mom tells them it's time to put away their Matchbox cars.