With the latest video game adaptation hitting the big screen, we grab some popcorn and head to the local Cineworld to check out Need for Speed.
Oh Hollywood, so close yet again. For source material, the EA racing series, Need for Speed, is one of the easiest for any studio to build into a big screen extravaganza. The story's essentially a blank canvas - just write something to bookend expensive car porn and elaborate racing sequences.
We're not looking for Shakespeare - the Fast & Furious series proves that - but we need likeable characters, a cast we can root for, else all the crashes and close calls in the world won't spike our heart rate and interest.
Gaining Aaron Paul, still riding high off AMC's Breaking Bad, as lead, is a good start. Ejecting the use of CGI in favour of real car stunts? Great. Shame then that everything else stalls at the starting line.
The story's a little A-Team, as, after a chunky prologue setting up the key cast, Paul's character Tobey Marshall is arrested for a fatality on the road that he didn't commit, and is released a year later seeking revenge on those responsible.
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It's a well-worn but easy setup. But awkward dialogue (the wail of a character's name at a critical story point comes off as hilarious rather than dramatic, while any conversations trying to get under the hood of the cast lacks depth) fails to resonate with any snappy zing, and Marshall's crew offer little more than the classic stereotypes that come with the ensemble territory.
There's even a laughable turn by Michael Keaton, who given the right material can add some sheen to anything, but here feels like he's shooting an entirely different movie in tone, and plays the part of plot point sharer to the viewer, just in case we were dumb enough to miss them or come the end, interested enough to care.
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So we're left with the car chases and stunts. All decent, but there's not that consistent stair-casing of set-pieces you'd expect from a film like this.
Best is the mid-film blast across America as Marshall attempts to cross the country to make it in time for registration on a secret, high-cost race between speedsters. Though those stunts are great, abandonment of the ticking timer hits the brakes on the mid-movie momentum. There's a great refuelling scene as car and tanker hurtle down a freeway because, we're told, there isn't time to stop... only for Marshall to park up at a gas station not ten minutes later. The movie's own logic takes a jump out of the passenger seat.
There's an entirely missed opportunity in this sequence as well, as Marshall's cross-country jaunt, one of the nods to the movie's source material, is hampered by a bounty being placed on his head. At this point you expect the movie to shift gears and pan out to multiple crews giving chase. We get one, and they're in and dealt with in a flash.
Annoyingly, as these things usually are, there's the framework of a good movie here. You're sat wanting to be dazzled, engaged. Amazed. But this is a surprisingly sedate and safe movie given the the subject matter. It's filler entertainment, far behind cinema's racing greats. We went in feeling the need for speed. We came out still wanting.
Let's hope for a better sequel.
4 / 10
Plays too safe, stereotype characters, destroys its own logic at times, lack of world building