IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 130 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The leader of a motley crew of mechanics, Toby runs his father’s auto shop and has fallen behind on the mortgage payments. When his old rival Dino, who has made it big, returns to town, Toby begrudgingly takes a job rebuilding an old Mustang for him with a promise of a portion of the sales. However, once the car is sold, Dino challenges Toby to a race with the winner taking the entire amount of the car sale. During the race, one of Toby’s friends is killed and Toby is framed for the death by Dino. Two years later, Toby is released from jail and plots his revenge…
CGI has good and bad benefits. It can allow film-makers to realise almost anything their imagination can conjure up, and films such as The Lord Of The Rings trilogy would not have been made without it. On the other hand, and I know I’ve said this before in reviews but it’s worth repeating here, it’s encouraged film-makers to be lazy. It used to be that if there was something that was hard to do, the special effects crew would work hard until they found a way of doing it, and less and less people seem to know how to even do practical effects these days as more and more stuff is done on the computer. For me sometimes, there is little in movies that comes close to watching great car action [oh the 70’s, truly the Golden Age of the car chase and the road movie!], but car races, car chases and car stunts now tend to make such extensive use of CGI that the raw excitement one can get out of watching this kind of thing is being heavily diluted because you’re no longer watching actual people driving really fast and doing crazy things to actual vehicles.
Need For Speed is being partly sold on the fact that its action is all done for real except for the odd enhancement, and regarding the latter all I could spot was a few explosions which had obviously been beefed up. For me this makes the movie worthy of respect immediately, though of course I was worried it wasn’t going to be that good. The reviews, and I do sometimes peruse reviews of films I’m about to review just to see what the general critical opinion is, have so far tended towards the mediocre or average, many criticising Need For Speed for being simplistic in plot and characterisation and relying too much on automobile thrills. For goodness sake, it’s a movie based on a computer game, what do they expect? I’ve never played a Need For Speed game, and probably never will, so I can’t tell you how close this film version is, though the opinion seems to be that it’s fairly close if not exact. I can, however, tell you that Need For Speed rocks. It runs 130 mins, which seems an unnecessarily long length for a film that looks like it’s one of those that needs to keep moving, but to be honest it seemed more like 100 mins to me. After the first few scenes, this movie just doesn’t stop and pretty much maintains the adrenalin rush it creates right to the end. Of course if you’re not a fan of car movies you may be bored, and to be honest there isn’t much else for you, though it’s a very well directed, edited and shot film, and anyone going into to watch Need For Speed should know what to expect. For me, it delivered more than I expected.
Now Need For Speed is already being compared, and not always favourably, to the Fast And Furious franchise, and the shadow of the latter certainly hangs over any film that has illegal races, not to mention a film that has some characters who are highly reminiscent of people who populate that series. Aaron Paul’s hero, who speaks little and when he does what he says is supposed to be profound, seems almost modelled on Vin Diesel’s, while Scott Mescudi’s comic relief character reminded me hugely of Tyrese Gibson’s, and so forth, though this may not be intentional: archetypes are archetypes and that’s who most of the people in this film are. In any case, Need For Speed ends up feeling closer to something like Smokey And The Bandit then any film from the hit Fast And Furious series, and that’s one of the things I loved about it. Even though it’s obviously set in our times, it often seems like a throwback to the 70’s, from the way the chases rely more on the sound of screaming engines and burning rubber than rap music, to the way we are treated to long shots so we can really enjoy the action properly rather than having it chopped into little pieces and having the life edited out of it. That’s not to say the film is totally old-fashioned though. The many different angles chosen for the race and chase scenes, in particular cinematographer Shane Hurlbut‘s penchant for taking shots from the front of cars, give the action a fresh and vibrant feel and are even more exciting than the racing bits in Rush.
The plot….o the plot….well, it’s very much your typical revenge tale. One guy is framed for a death by another guy who is his old rival and who stole his girlfriend [see what I mean, nothing new], he does his time in prison and then sets out to take revenge. The set-up is a little longwinded though even the first quarter of the film is certainly not lacking for action, with two thrillingly shot race sequences – then again, virtually every scene in this movie involving a car is thrilling – but the majority of the story is about our hero Toby trying to get from New York to San Francisco in 44 hours. The action never stops, and I’m getting positively worked up right now thinking about the number of crashing and rolling cars in the movie, I just love this stuff. Of course there’s that bridge flip, which we certainly didn’t see all of in the trailer, and that incredible car jump [where I wanted to do what I have the annoying habit of doing at home and rewind the film just to see the stunt again] over three rows of traffic. Maybe the trailer did show the two best bits, but there’s great stuff elsewhere and actually this film is more about constant forward motion than showing off. There are brief respites from the thrills, like the relationship between Toby and Julia, the car buyer who ends up stuck with him for most of the film, even if Julia’s defining moment is probably when she climbs out of the car to fill it up with petrol while it, and the vehicle with the petrol pump, are on the move. The couple are rather sweet and I was rooting for them to get together even though some may say you’ll not meant to care about this kind of stuff in a film like this.
Need For Speed isn’t a comedy, and is appropriately tense when it needs to be, but still has some laughs, notably when one of Toby’s helpers, who now has an office job, gets completely naked to make sure his bosses know he won’t be coming up and even snogs the workmate he’s fancied for ages. The attitude to the carnage Toby and his friends create is a bit morally confused and the script has its silly aspects, such as Toby being broke when we first meet him, yet somehow being able to afford lots of hi-tech equipment and a plane in the air acting as a spotter. There are too many scenes where Toby is in a jam and “Hey Presto”, one of his mates comes along to get him out of it, while the inconsistent dialogue is mostly purely functional but occasionally plain weird [a random comment about Pierce Morgan?]. Ignoring perhaps a bit of annoying shakycam for some foot action [not that there’s much of that], directorially Need For Speed is a total success though, Scott Waugh and his talented crew giving us a film that is very colourful and usually attractive to look at. In the end, Need For Speed’s faults are ones that you may very well expect to find in it, but in the areas in which it’s good, and which in some cases are areas of more importance anyway, it’s very good indeed.
Much has been made of Breaking Bad’s Adrian Paul being in the lead role, and he’s both quietly tough and subtly vulnerable, though for some reason he seems to be trying to do an impersonation of the deep voiced Christian Bale Batman. Performance-wise Michael Keaton almost steals the show with one of his crazy, over-the-top performances that is always fun to watch. Toby’s crew are all good company and the two females in the film, Julia [Imogen Poots] and Anita [Dakota Johnson] certainly make an impression, though Johnson’s character doesn’t have enough scren time and the parts are not original in the slightest. Nathan Furst’s score is extremely generic but knows when to hold back, though the film ends annoyingly with a very poor Bob Dylan cover. For the most part, though, Need For Speed is a blast. It’s nowhere near perfect and its faults are certainly more obvious now it’s been a few hours since I’ve seen it, but for the duration of its length this critic was grinning from ear to ear. A film like this is not meant to be thought about, just experienced. Even the 3D, this being yet another instance when I walked into a 3D showing of a film by mistake and didn’t feel like waiting for the next 2D screening, is actually quite good. I stand by the point I’ve made several times on this website that 3D is a gimmick and usually looks annoyingly fake rather than real. However, while Need For Speed doesn’t quite join the very select group of films that were enhanced by their 3D [like Avatar and Gravity], the depth of field is very strong and some of the car scenes seem to have been shot so they would be look good in the format. Of course this film would be just as fun without though.
Films like this should really have two ratings though, one for during, and one for after. I would rate Need For Speed 9/10 for during, and 7/10 for after.