‘Need for Speed’: Popular video game hits the big screen

Joel Stinnett

Synopsis:

Tobey Marshall, arguably the driver who has the biggest need…for speed, finds himself broke down on the side of the financial road when the bank forecloses on his auto body shop. It only gets worse for ole Tobey when he’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit by Dino, his main “street racing” competition rival, and goes to prison for a few years. Upon release, Tobey devises a plan to clear his name and his overdrawn bank account by entering into the most coveted race on the street circuit. With everything to gain, and nothing to lose, he puts it all in the line. But if he fails, he’ll need a little more than speed to get his life back on the right course.

Direction:

Scott Waugh directs “Needs for Speed” to extremely mixed results. On the one pedal, the film would have benefited had he spent a little more time with the green talent. These are actors that really haven’t worked much and have little perspective on how to act with certain material. It’s a pure matter of understanding context. This fault is extremely apparent in many scenes throughout the film. On the other pedal, there are some surprisingly disciplined shots in the film. More than a few times I was surprised with the camera work and what the filmmaker was attempting to accomplish. Some of the shots even evoked hints of the great Alfred Hitchcock. I was as shocked watching as you are at reading that last line.

Waugh, who’s only other directing credit is 2012’s Act of Valor, makes another key move that led to me enjoying the film more than I thought I would. Instead of placing a lot of emphasis into any particular scene with dialog, the filmmaker instead keeps whatever sense of story constantly rolling, making it almost impossible to notice the horrible dialog along the way. That rolling, in fact, makes the film extremely plot heavy, which is a good thing seeing that there isn’t much in terms of character on display. It’s as if the filmmaker knew the script was written by garbage pail kids, took the job to get work, and did what he could to add some adrenaline to his audience. That’s an emotion, right?

Acting:

The acting in “Need for Speed” is both a little bit of gas and a splash of oil. The two don’t mix unless you’re about to weed eat; not feast your eyes and scene eat. It’s as if most of the cast thought the script was literally made of finish line tape, while a select few others seemed to just be enjoying the ride for what it’s worth. I’m sure the paycheck and muscle cars weren’t a bad consolation prize either.

One of those thespian joyriders is star Aaron Paul, playing the titular character Tobey Marshal. Paul, best known for portraying Jesse Pinkman on the stellar AMC series “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013), seems to know how ridiculous the script is and is having fun with the material. He never takes it serious, even when Toby is going through a gauntlet of emotion. This type of mindset would hurt a serious drama; “Need for Speed” took a wrong turn on the way to quality dramatic filmmaking long ago. Paul’s acting choices help emphasize the tone of the film. It’s here to have fun with its audience, and Paul is more than happy to oblige. And he’s not the only one.

Dominic Cooper is also having the time of his life with the film playing villainous Dino Brewster.  In playing the antagonist, Cooper chooses calm over explosive. Calculation in place of impulse. His intentions are overly tunneled in his vision of what he desires, much like Tobey, and the results of their altercations are all the better for it. I’m certainly not saying he’s the next Darth Vader or Joker, but he too is enjoying the campiness that is “Need for Speed.”

Others rounding out the cast, those I originally called the oily group, include the sometimes funny but often annoying Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi playing Benny, the ultimately unconvincing Imogen Poots playing Julia Maddon, and Harrison Gilbertson playing Little Pete with the same persuasion of a member of your local high school play.

Writing:

The script that is “Need for Speed” honestly could have been written by a high school sophomore. Ideas drift in and out of the narrative, often being abandoned without a further mention. Not only are there huge logical plot holes, there are unnecessary supernatural elements and thinly-written characters. Characters, who more often than not, say things no one with a hint of life experience would utter. So it’s easy to see why I was in the theater literally going ” wait…what?”

That’s not to say “Need for Speed” is completely wasted time. The film indeed has a nice blueprint for its pacing and plot execution; it’s just what fills that blueprint are murky details and confusion. The greatest thing about the film is its understanding of what it is. It’s a video game adaptation, one with absolute no central story or built in mythology, designed for empty entertainment. This isn’t “Metal Gear Solid” or “Uncharted:” The Movie. Those game classics are rich in story. “Need for Speed” is rich in cars, cops, and sweet jumps. It exchanges depth for horsepower and is focused on its goal of entertaining guys that watch MMA and enjoy mindless action. In this regard, the film more than succeeds.

Reel to Real:

2014’s “Need for Speed” is what it is. A loud, dumb car movie that knows why the audience is there and gives it to them in spades. I recommend it to action fans and adrenaline junkies, ones ready to check their tire pressure and brains at the car door. If you’re looking for a competent story, one which interesting characters and highly intricate plotting, look elsewhere. Everyone else, buckle up and get ready to rev this baby till we hit 240 mph. (Recommend with Caution, C-)