Film review: Feel the need?

Film review: Feel the need?
Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is in a near-impossible cross-country race against time in “Need for Speed.” Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon

Turbo-charged fun fuels throwback to 1960s and ‘70s car films  

It sputters occasionally when it comes to plot, characters, and acting, but “Need for Speed” is built to specifications ordered by the crowd wanting to see it win the big race.

Hard times have fallen on Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a blue-collar mechanic whose auto shop faces foreclosure.

So when wealthy entrepreneur and acquaintance Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) makes him an offer he can’t refuse, Tobey finds himself instead being framed for manslaughter. Following his release from prison, Tobey joins forces with a savvy exotic car dealer (Imogen Poots) to avenge his friend’s death — and the only way to do that is by participating in a high-stakes racing tournament.

I’ve never played the “Need for Speed” video games, so I can’t comment on how this film differs from the source material quality-wise.

What I can say, however, is that it’s easy to enjoy 130 minutes of turbo-charged fun when the only things you have on your mind are fast cars, intense stunts, and above all else, enthusiasm.

Director Scott Waugh (“Act of Valor”) recognizes this particular mindset, and therefore resorts to vehicular maneuvers that leave the viewer’s heart pounding fast.

I, too, experienced such a feeling when witnessing the various cars’ drivers putting the pedal to the metal over and over again, and that’s the kind of rush you don’t want to end.

As someone who isn’t into high-octane driving, I’ll admit that I found the continuous bursts of adrenaline to be invigorating.

Waugh’s success in the action genre lies within his use of clear-cut camerawork and practical effects, and those two qualities alone are worthy of respect.

The former guarantees that we will get a good look at what’s happening to the cast and cars, and the latter imbues the set pieces with an air of authenticity.

Whether the heroes are cruising down the highway or dodging cops and bounty hunters, every move they make possesses a raw intensity pleasing to the eye.

In spite of its terrific engine performance, “Need for Speed” can’t quite avoid the two obvious bumps in the road labeled “plot” and “character development.”

This is hardly surprising: predictable plots and two-dimensional characters are cornerstones of the action genre, and especially of adaptations of popular video games. After all, for a film such as “Need for Speed,” the main attractions are the cars and daredevil moments, not the drivers and narrative structure.

To somewhat remedy this issue Waugh has managed to weave a simplistic storyline into the film that, for all intents and purposes, meets the target audience’s expectations.

Plus, the actors’ performances are workable to the point where you could at least care about whether or not their injuries from a collision are serious.

Long story short, if you’re fine with plot and character taking a backseat to the non-stop action, go ahead and take this vehicle for a spin.

The acting quality in “Need for Speed” is by no means good, but it gets the job done in a manner that is anything other than terrible. And that’s pretty much what we ask for, right?

OK, so for starters, Aaron Paul is not half bad as a leading man; he pulls off being focused, frantic, friendly, and furious at the right moments.

As Tobey Marshall, he shifts mood gears whenever the route he is taking requires him to do so, taking the audience on a wild ride.

Dominic Cooper is suitably arrogant, channeling Edward Norton’s “The Italian Job” baddie to create Dino Brewster’s traitorous demeanor.

Imogen Poots imbues her Julia Maddon with a witty sophistication, though her role as the love interest feels rather obligatory.

Kid Cudi, Ramón Rodríguez, and Rami Malek provide the audience with a truckload of wisecracks, with Cudi as the de facto ringleader.

Michael Keaton, on the other hand, disappoints with his over-the-top line delivery. I mean, I get it that he’s supposed to be this eccentric car racing host, but did he really have to smother us with so much flamboyance?

Go on, thrill-seekers — accelerate full throttle when driving “Need for Speed,” but don’t be shocked if you feel riding this vehicle once is good enough afterwards.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language.

Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes

Playing: In general         release




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