I feel the need. The need, for speed. Thankfully, those words are never uttered in the film adaptation of EA’s popular racing series of the same name, Need For Speed. If it was, I’d be throwing popcorn and walking out. Instead what I found was one of the most entertaining bad movies I have ever seen.
Introducing Tobey Marshall: the hero of our tale played by Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul. Tobey runs a mechanic shop for custom racers, and he does pretty good work with his band of merry men: Pete, Benny and Finn.
The villain of the piece is a guy named Dino Brewster (because that’s a name befitting of a bad guy). He wants them to restore the Mustang that Ford and Caroll Shelby were building when Shelby died. Dino is a big shot, and left the small town Tobey and he lived in together to go race Indy cars. Dino’s got an ego to uphold here.
After the car is successfully restored and sold to an eccentric billionaire thanks to Tobey’s superior driving skills, Dino challenges him to a race in some exotic Koenigseggs because he can’t leave that dent in his pride alone. The young kid in Tobey’s crew, Pete, decides to come along, and after a white-knuckle race, Pete is killed in a firey, car-flipping crash by Dino who rammed him off the road in order to win.
Dino frames Tobey for the death, and Tobey goes away for a seemingly short two-year sentence for vehicular manslaughter and grand theft auto.
Tobey gets out and borrows the billionaire’s Mustang to travel to and hopefully win a secret race happening on the other side of the country. Cue a series of insane car chases and races reminiscent of Need For Speed: The Run with his female sidekick, Julia, in tow.
Here’s a story clip if you want to know more about it:
Despite the fact that it sounds formulaic, don’t be fooled into thinking that you’ll sit down in your seat and watch EA and Dreamworks try to remake the Fast And The Furious with more Ford product placement. It’s a completely different film.
The producers, director and writers knew that the Fast And The Furious “films” existed and decided to take a left turn when approaching the racing movie genre. Sure, the characters are still one-dimensional and the dialogue is at times laughably bad (Michael Keaton has some awful things to say in this movie), but the races are so much better in Need For Speed than in most of the driving movies we’ve had in the last decade.
Every race or chase sequence has elements of the epic car chases throughout film history, like the San Francisco hill attacks in Bullitt, the camera angles of The French Connection and the element of danger when it comes to traffic and corners from the Need For Speed games. When the racers in The Fast And The Furious drive, they make it look effortless and loaded with obvious CGI. The races in Need For Speed feel intense and almost visceral. Like you’re in the back seat clinging on in the corners yourself.
The cars are also fantastic in this movie. Whereas the Fast And The Furious movies are obsessed with Japanese imports and American muscle, the cars in Need For Speed are straight out of the exotic posters on your bedroom wall: the McLaren P1, Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, Lamborghini Sesto Elemento, Koenigsegg Agera R and more all get an awesome run in this movie.
A lot of the Hollywood bullshit that goes into racing movies has also been removed for Need For Speed. The studio understands that the people watching this film know their cars, and they’ve tried to make everything as true to life as you possibly can. The sounds the cars make are genuine, the in-dash computer system is mostly on the level (it’s a hybrid Carplay and Need For Speed‘s Driverlog menu UI), and the speeds the cars do are also fairly legit. It won’t have you throwing popcorn at the screen the same way that epic-souding car chase in Quantum Of Solace did between an Aston Martin and an Alfa Romeo 159. Booooo. The only aspect of Hollywood BS that we really object to in this movie is the cornering. No way you’d be able to keep any of these cars in a straight line at those speeds. That’s forgivable.
There’s one thing about Need For Speed, however, that isn’t forgiveable, and that’s the odd undercurrent of sexism.
The female lead in this film is a character named Julia Maddon (played by Imogen Poots). We get introduced to her in the first 20 minutes of the film as an exotic car buyer for the aforementioned mysterious billionaire. She approaches the custom-built Shelby GT Mustang that Tobey and Pete have been working on in the beginning of the film and asks a series of inane questions based on the pretext that she doesn’t know anything about cars. The film assumes that she’s pretty and British, so why would she know anything right, lads (ugh)? She then flabbergasts them with an in-depth knowledge about the history of the Mustang, which should earn her character a great deal of respect from Tobey Marshall in their future journey across the country to the big California race.
Instead, we have to sit through a series of wisecracks about how, because she’s a stylish, classy, British woman interested in fashion, she can’t know a goddamn thing about cars, how they work, or how to drive them
For example, she’s accused of not being able to drive because she wears “high-heeled” boots from Gucci. Her character is frightened in intense situations because she’s a woman and easily flustered and she for some reason has to constantly be placed in situations where she’s a damsel in distress waiting for Tobey to save her. It isn’t overt sexism that’s in your face all the time, but right up until the closing shot, it’s there, and it’s annoying. Why can’t she be a girl who knows about cars and drives like a pro, too? Nope. Gotta be condescending because she’s a hot girl.
One other thing to note is that you’re going to be in for a massive dose of hardcore 3D in this movie. That’s kind of what you sign on for when you buy a ticket to a movie developed in partnership with a video game studio: an overdose of visual effects. If you’re allergic to 3D, have a look at how to build 2D glasses to overcome the in-your-faceness of it all.
The racing scenes do a lot to make up for the faults in the dialogue and the story, however.
Need For Speed captured the hearts of racing game lovers because it was fanciful and insane. Want to race a Testarossa through a forest stage and watch your rivals get ploughed into trees by the cops? Done. That magic has been captured perfectly in the driving sequences of the film adaptation, and it’s enough to make any gamer or car enthsiast squeal with delight.
If you love a driving movie and adore exotic cars like we do, it’s a must-see, despite how cheesy it can be.
Need For Speed hits theatres nationally today.