When Electronic Arts brought out Need for Speed lead star Aaron Paul at their E3 2013 press conference to talk about the movie, I sat in the audience failing to muster any effort to care. Out of all the film adaptations of video games to happen, did anyone want this one? Fast forward to last week and I still had low expectations for the whole thing as I walked into the theater for an advance screening of the movie. Need for Speed is pretty dumb and silly, and surprisingly I kind-of like it for that.
Don’t get me wrong - the movie is miles far from unique, especially in the character and story departments. Aaron Paul, famed for his Breaking Bad role as Jesse Pinkman, plays Tobey Marshall, an auto-repair prodigy tough guy who finds himself framed for a crime by evil rich business prick Dino Brewster. After spending a few years in jail, Tobey must get his auto-repair crew back together and travel across the country with a hot British car dealer love interest named Julia Maddon to attend a legendary race put on by the mysterious, elusive billionaire “Monarch” in order to beat Dino and clear his name. Like I said, Need for Speed features a ridiculous plot and archetypal characters, yet luckily it never takes itself too seriously. Heck, I chuckled when it seemingly pulled pages out of the wacky anime Speed Racer at times. During the race finale, a number of racers have cartoonish names like, “Texas Mike.” One of Tobey’s crew members played by Kid Cudi somehow pulls of flying aircraft like a helicopter to act as a lookout for races.
Meanwhile, Aaron Paul does his best as the lead Tobey with what’s given to him and ends up with adequate results for an action flick. His chemistry with the romantic interest Julia, played by Imogen Poots, never feels believable, but thankfully their characters’ romance never stays in the forefront too long. Tobey’s crew members manage to pull off a few laughs yet are nonetheless forgettable roles as well. Michael Keaton looked like he had a blast playing the Monarch, who energetically hosts a live video stream where he talks about the events unfolding in the film. It’s a mildly enjoyable character reminiscent of Jet Grind Radio’s DJ Professor K or Fallout 3’s Three Dog.
What Need for Speed does pull off that’s uncommon in this day and age is foregoing the use of heavy CGI for real, practical effects work for its action sequences. There aren’t massive amounts of crazy car acrobatics and explosions that modern audiences may be used to, but the fact that so much of what’s happening on screen is actual stunts keeps the tension there. Thanks also to the cinematography, the races feel rapid enough to get your adrenaline pumping. There are a number of cute little nods to the original games for fans, from cops in hot pursuit of racers to shots with strong blue and/or orange, EA’s two favorite colors to use on the box art of its games.
Blue & orange highlights? Yep, this is an EA production.
So what’s the verdict on the Need for Speed movie? It certainly isn’t the worst video game adaptation and you might end up enjoying it a little like I did. Sure, the Fast and the Furious franchise will continue to be king of the racing flick realm. As they say, a little competition never hurt anyone and in this case, it’s entertaining. You know what you’re getting into so catch a matinee, embrace the absurdity, and feel the Need for Speed.