As a bona fide fan of Breaking Bad, it should come as no surprise that I was very excited about Aaron Paul’s first big screen leading role. I loved him as Jesse Pinkman on the gritty AMC show, for which he won two Emmy awards and I was sure that he was going to bring his A-game to his first movie.
Need for Speed is the big screen adaptation of the most successful racing video game ever created. That’s a lot of hype to live up to. While I have never played the actual game in any of its forms, I have learned that the gameplay was pretty simple and revolved around racing cars whether on the side of the police or the felons. To be honest, I was expecting the film to be a bit more violent but since there was little in the line of the video game plot, it gave director George Gatins and screenwriter John Gatin more room to develop the story.
Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is an excellent mechanic, but he is an even greater racer, if DJ Monarch (Michael Keaton), the organizer of the De Leon underground race is to be believed, he is the best driver in the world — ever. But when his shop runs into financial trouble after his father dies, Tobey and his crew are forced to enter into a deal with Dino (Dominic Cooper), a rich arrogant S.O.B. and his ultimate racing rival, to complete the build of the infamous Shelby Mustang that “the” Caroll Shelby himself was working on before he died. The deal pushes through but Dino, who has always felt threatened by Tobey’s skills, challenges him to a race for his share of the profits. The race ends in disaster and lands Tobey in prison. When he gets out, there is hell to pay as he tries to seek vengeance in the De Leon arena. But first, he must secure the elusive invite in order to participate.
I must say that despite critics panning this movie as a wannabe version of The Fast and The Furious, I quite enjoyed this 130 minute feature. It may sound long but it was really entertaining throughout. On the plus side, I really enjoyed the balance of laughter and seriousness in this film. Aaron Paul did not disappoint as a leading man, working with the limitations of the material as well as he could. There were times that I really thought that he could do a lot more than what was given to him and it was a shame the script didn’t push him further, but he pulled it off with his great flair for drama and his boyish charm. His supporting cast — Rami Malek (Night at the Museum, Twilight) as Finn, Scott Mescudi as the hilarious pilot Vinny/Maverick, Ramon Rodriguez as Joe, Tobey’s bestie, and Little Pete, the baby of the group — provided very solid performances. The guys were awesome and worked together so well that it was always super fun to watch their extended interactions. Imogen Poots (28 Days Later) also made her mark as the spunky car dealer Julia, who somehow ended up in the middle of all the action. Dominic Cooper (Mamma Mia) did his best as the film’s villain but he wasn’t really scary or annoying.
The car chases were great but not at the same level of FF, The Transporter, Death Race or Days of Thunder but it was obvious they weren’t really trying to be, and this is something that is both positive and negative about the film.
To a point, it made sure to entertain the audiences not only with the parade of high end cars, but also with the continuous pace of the action, but on the other hand, it lacked the edge and the intensity of the aforementioned racing movies. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that it is produced and distributed by Dreamworks and Disney, two of the largest, most wholesome film companies in Hollywood so it was important to keep the story, the violence and the destruction at a PG 13 level. Come to think of it, even the dialogue was pretty mild, considering the ferocity of the rivalry of Tobey and Dino’s rivalry.
Otherwise, the soundtrack was kick ass, the stunts were cool, and the cinematography really showcased the beauty of each individual car so mission accomplished.
All in all, while I appreciated the totality of the Need for Speed movie adaptation, I was really hoping it would have pushed the envelope further in terms of story and character development. The cast was awesome albeit in some parts underutilized. And for all intents and purposes, it was a great movie, very fun and engaging. But if it is compared to the level of other movies of the same genre, its achievements are somehow dwarfed by the bigger than life portrayal of the world of racing. That was the only thing that was missing to make this film truly epic. These days, that is the level that films should be gunning for. Put those big budgets to good use.