Silver Screen: Need for Speed *
Let’s first consider the irony of a movie called Need for Speed that runs two hours and ten minutes long. That need apparently applies to the characters, but not so much the audience members, who must have nothing to do and nowhere in particular to be, because being just about anywhere would be preferable to sitting through a 130-minute adaptation of a mostly plotless videogame rendered somehow more plotless in an attempt to flesh out the story. Or perhaps the title is a meta-reference to the drug you’d need to stay awake through the grueling duration.
This Sunday-drive-paced lemon takes a full forty minutes to get to its inciting incident, a not-so-friendly street race between our generic gearhead hero Tobey (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul), his cartoonishly villainous rival Dino (Dominic Cooper), and Tobey’s impossibly naïve sidekick Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), whose dumbfounded smile and vacant eyes suggest he’d be just as excited watching someone jingling a set of keys as he would driving an actual car. Dino pulls some shifty moves that send Pete to his fiery demise, then speeds off, leaving a grieving Tobey to take the fall, because apparently open-air street races not only have no witnesses, but police forensics experts are incapable of reconstructing accident scenes.
Tobey spends two years in jail because of the incident, seven-hundred-odd days that flash past without so much as a montage. In one scene, he’s smacking his steering wheel and weeping over his char-broiled lil’ buddy, and the next he’s bounding through the jailhouse gates as if he just had to make a quick pit stop for cigarettes. Not only does no time pass for the audience, it seems as if none has passed for Tobey, either. He immediately begins plotting his two-pronged revenge plan: Bring Dino to justice while also winning a super-sweet road race orchestrated by eccentric automotive maven the Monarch (a barely there Michael Keaton).
To get to this fabled race, Tobey will need to drive cross-country in just forty hours with the help of a foxy blonde (Imogen Poots) whose entire character consists of her ability to spout car specs, because in the narrow view of adolescent boys and godawful screenwriters a dream girl is pretty much just a hot chick who likes exactly the same things they do. It doesn’t help much that Poots recites these car specs with the pained caution of someone phonetically pronouncing lines of dialogue in a foreign language.
So they drive, and they drive some more, all so they can drive. That’s all well and good, but do we really need an hour and a half of frame story as an excuse for forty minutes of stuntwork?
As for that stuntwork, it’s mostly achieved through actual driving and practical effects. Director Scott Waugh disdains computer effects and music cues for something more gritty and lived-in. The soundtrack for the racing scenes consists almost entirely of roaring engines— admirable, but also loud and annoying enough to make viewers wish for a pair of earplugs. Trouble is, the realism of Waugh’s practical effects is contained within an entirely artificial reality— I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that all the driving sequences were real but that most of the bland supporting characters and all the dialogue scenes were actually computer-generated.
Are we there yet?
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.