I’ve been playing Need For Speed since the franchise’s inception in 1994. That’s right, "I was there at the beginning, man! I liked Need for Speed before it was cool to like Need for Speed, man!" For a franchise of generic street-racing games with over twenty pretty much interchangeable installments so far, when it comes time to "adapt" the "source material" to a feature film, you can pretty much make up any character and story as long as it revolves around racing.
It’s not as if there’s a beloved Need for Speed character that fans would love to see on the big screen. As far as an iconic car from the franchise is concerned, you’re out of luck there as well. Each installment of the game has a line of souped-up street-racing cars for the player to choose from and as far as I know, there isn’t a single car favored by all NFS fans.
To be fair, there were some installments that tried to present a shoestring story with horribly written, shot and acted cut-scenes, like Most Wanted and Underground. In these games you played a generic bad-ass pretty boy street-race driver who got screwed over by a generic douche pretty-boy bad dude and you had to rise up in the ranks in order to beat him in a climactic race. Come to think of it, the Need for Speed movie is not that far removed from these cut-scenes. Maybe it’s more faithful to the games than I realized.
Of course the goal with green-lighting the movie version is to attract a perfect storm of the games’ followers, fans of the incredibly successful Fast & Furious franchise and proudly superficial petrosexuals in general. As it is with every other car porn, the focus is on the sweet multi-million dollar vehicles, insanely over-the-top driving stunts and the shameless fetishization of metal and grease.
In fact, a ridiculous and nonsensical sequence where out protagonists fill up a car while driving 200mph reminds you where your libido should focus by showing the obligatory token sexy girl grabbing the phallic gas nozzle from a man and guiding it into the gas hole. Pornhub’s fetish page couldn’t have come up with a more obvious visual.
The story, the dialogue and the acting, on the other hand, could not have been more predictably pathetic. The obvious dialogue is so non-ironically old-fashioned that it feels like an adaptation of a greaser movie from the 50s (Lots of threatening "Didn’t know you were back in town" dialogue). In fact, with such an obvious throwback to classic Americana complete with rebels without causes hanging around a drive-in theatre, I thought we were in a nostalgic period piece for the first ten minutes.
Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul sleepwalks through his first Hollywood starring role as Tobey Marshall, an underappreciated racer who ends up in jail after a seemingly lucrative deal with his douche rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper. By the way, did Hanna-Barbera come up with these character names?) goes horribly wrong.
First day out of prison, Tobey has nothing but vengeance in mind as he drives from New York to California to a super-secret, winner-takes-all race in order to beat Dino at his own game.
Tagging along on Tobey’s journey is the reject pile from first drafts of Fast & Furious sequels. We get the charismatic yet clownish black character, usually played by a rapper (Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi) as a last-ditch attempt to inject some street cred into the project, the run-of-the-mill nerdy mechanics and a hot blonde (Imogen Poots) who switches so abruptly between inept, feminine, smart, dumb, masculine and badass as the screenplay calls for it that the character might suffer from multiple personality syndrome.
However, I understand that we’re all in this for the stunts and in that sense, Need for Speed almost won me over, almost. Director Scott Waugh, a legendary stunt coordinator who first tried his hand at directing with the feature-length Navy commercial Act of Valor, focuses on real stunts instead of relying on CGI.
We get some incredibly impressive racing sequences where the camera operators get so close to the cars that I think I’d rather see a documentary on how many times the crew cheated death during production.
Waugh even pays homage to the games as he presents the famous in-game camera angles during racing sequences. In fact, there were times when I looked for my controller so I could press the triangle button to change angles. The final race is so full of gratuitous crashes that the movie could have been called Burnout instead. Why not, they’re both EA properties.
Need for Speed should please hardcore racing fans and pretty much no one else, unless you’re really into watching an inept soap opera on the big screen for some reason.