Movie Review: “Need for Speed” – Furiously Fast

Written by Leo Panasyuk March 15, 2014

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Video game movies are like communism (odd comparison, I know)- they sound good on paper but are less-than-stellar in practice. The reason behind this is that, with a 25+ hour game, it becomes quite a challenge to condense it into a 2-hour film. Though some decent video game-to-film adaptations have been made, most fell flat and offer nothing new to the existing source material. Scott Waugh’s “Need for Speed,” however, is different – it just may be the first ‘good’ video game movie. Though this machine could still benefit from a tune-up.

Zero-to-Sixty

Aaron “Pinkman” Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a mechanic by day and racer by night. Marshall is an honest kid and a daring wheel-man, pitting his skills against other intrepid drivers whenever he can. When he’s sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, he vows to exact revenge on the ruthless, vile man who put him there – rival racer Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) – in a high-stakes, winner-take-all race and tear up as much “American asphalt” as he can while doing so.

Much like Ron Howard's "Rush," the crashes feel as real as the racing.

Much like Ron Howard’s “Rush,” the crashes feel as real as the racing.

“This is About More than Racing”

I didn’t have high expectations going into this film; the fact that it was a video game-movie-adaptation certainly didn’t work in its favour. However, I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed “Need for Speed.” Granted, it’s not difficult to adapt a game such as NFS into a film because there’s only a single core concept you have to get right – the racing. Everything else is at your liberty. The film lacks much in the way of conventional, standard action but makes up for it with its racing. Each race scene is fast, loud, and is sure to increase your heart rate. Waugh employs several cinematographic tricks during the race scenes and they not only increase the intensity of the scenes, but make you feel as if you’re part of the action. There are a few driver-POV shots where you literally feel as if you’re the one behind the wheel barreling down the street at ridiculous, death-defying speeds.

Waugh’s attention to detail must be praised, here; it’s clear he knew and appreciated the source material before making this film. There are several aspects of past NFS games present in the film and it truly felt as if he wanted to stay as true to the adrenalin-rush-inducing racing of the 20-year franchise. As well, the film features many nods to past driving films such as “Cannonball Run,” “Gone in 60 Seconds,” and the original car-chase film, “Bullitt.”

This film drives from the streets of Detroit to the forests of California, offering a varied visual spectrum.

This film drives from the streets of Detroit to the forests of California, offering a varied visual spectrum.

“Call me Maverick!”

Besides the super-charged supercars of the film (which look oh, so, beautiful), the film’s biggest stars are Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots. Poots plays an English exotic car dealer who acts as Paul’s wingman (wing-woman, rather) for the majority of the film and as you would expect, a romantic relationship blossoms in the background. Paul and Poots bring a palpable sense of drama and emotion to the film, and their talents are only matched by the comedic charisma of Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, who delivers more than a few one-liners to lighten the tension. The remainder of the cast is rounded out by Paul’s traveling pit-crew, Brewster’s neglected girlfriend, and an underground radio DJ played by Michael Keaton. The film also has some genuinely funny bits and paces itself fairly well – until the third act where it feels like it’s kicked into overdrive. Cooper is cliché as the antagonist, though he has the charm to pull it off, and the scenes between him and Paul are just some of the film’s best.

Overall

Scott Waugh’s “Need for Speed” may be the first ever good video game movie. Riding on the heels of the highly-popular “Fast and Furious” franchise, it offers up something which F&F has been rather devoid of in recent history: fast, furious, fiery racing. For Aaron Paul’s first major post-“Breaking Bad” role, this is one he can be proud of; he works with a formidable action (not so much drama) director, shares the screen with a charismatic and witty cast, and gets to burn rubber in more than just a go-kart. If you feel the need for speed, race over to the theater and check this out. But please obey all traffic laws to and from the theater. This isn’t a game, after all.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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About Leo Panasyuk

A fan of all things film, Leo never really lets himself get tied down to one specific genre. He's always interested in watching new and old films and especially loves the IMAX format. When he's not choosing which movie to watch next, he's studying Film and English at Western University.

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