‘Need for Speed’ Races Into Theaters

'Need for Speed' Races Into Theaters

DreamWorks SKG

Sydney Rogalsky, Arts & Entertainment Editor

In “Need for Speed,” Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) agrees to a temporary partnership with longtime opponent, professional racer Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), in an attempt to keep his auto shop business open and his team of mechanic friends employed. After completing a modified Ford GT500, Dino challenges Tobey to an impromptu race – in the hopes of humiliating his rival and making off with a bigger chunk of their sales commission. However, when the race ends in tragic circumstances, Dino speeds away – leaving Tobey to endure a two year prison term (for a crime that he did not commit). Upon his release, Tobey vows to prove his innocence through the only means available to him – journeying across the country to compete in the mother of all illegal street races.

Many people have questioned the reasoning behind the making of a “Need for Speed” film. After all, if Hollywood is going to be making movies based off video games (along the lines of “Tomb Raider” and “Mortal Kombat”), this seems an odd place to start. Why not start with something more typically mainstream such as “Halo” or “Grand Theft Auto?” The goal, it seems, was to capitalize of the immensely popular “Fast and the Furious” franchise. However, the final film does set itself apart. Though its story is weak, and it seems a bit over-the-top at times, the characters’ personalities and the interestingly enough not CGI racing scenes making for a fun, if brainless, movie experience.

The storyline, of course, borrows elements from the video game franchise (including law enforcement crackdown) – but is not an outright adaptation. Instead, the script is a very basic tale of injustice and retribution – set in an admittedly ludicrous world where the good guys can solve their legal troubles by racing cars through crowded city streets regardless of monetary or physical harm to innocent bystanders.

Aaron Paul (known for his portrayal of Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad”) certainly is unable to portray his usual range, but he elevates what could have been a very one-dimensional role. Despite disappointing writing, Paul actually manages to give Tobey depth and charm. The supporting cast is surprisingly entrancing – especially in the case of Tobey’s right hand girl, Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots). Certain aspects of the character try too hard to set her apart from damsel-in-distress tropes but, overall, her spirited personality is a fun, upbeat contrast to Tobey’s solemn demeanor. Finn (Rami Malek) and Joe Peck (Ramon Rodriguez), part of Tobey’s team, help fuel the storyline, but Scott Mescudi (aka rapper Kid Cudi) offers comedic relief in nearly every one of his scenes – as pilot/navigator/watch dog Benny. Select Benny moments may require a suspension of belief, but the character is essential in keeping the dynamic between Tobey and his team light-hearted and carefree.

Unfortunately, Dominic Cooper’s character is severely underdeveloped. Attempts to flesh out the character are made through conflicting emotions and financial pressures of his own, but the script prevents Dino from becoming anything more than a stock cartoon villain. He seems excessive rather than interesting. As villains go, he comes across as the type who would twirl his mustache if he had one.

The poor writing, however, shouldn’t deter car-lovers from seeing this film. There are plenty of downright gratuitous shots of the over-the-top cars, gorgeous makes ranging from the 2015 Ford Mustang GT to the Saleen S7, as well as Lamborghini Sesto Elemento. The film captures the raw power of the machines beautiful direction and sound design. “Need for Speed” seems overly loud and the plot seems scattered, but the cinematography is, for the most part, relatively grounded. The filmmakers’ decision to shoot the racing sequences using actual cars and stunt drivers, rather than CGI post-production generally seen in the films of today, sets “Need for Speed” apart with a convincing realism that most modern-day car chase scenes clearly lack.

Though “Need for Speed” seems to be a cliched and restricting movie experience at first glance, the edge-of-your-seat car chases are what differentiates this film from its predecessors. Even though it’s not a particularly smart or original movie, car lovers and films fans that are willing to switch off their brains should find “Need for Speed” offers a rather amusing ride.