Sunday, March 16, 2014

Speed limits

In accordance with the title, I’ll make this quick: Need For Speed, based on the beloved video game of the same name, is a lot of fun whenever it kicks into high gear. Unfortunately, Need For Speed is an astonishing 130 minutes long, and every time it gets out of the car the thing just slows to a crawl, offering us way to much time to contemplate how unbelievably dumb it is.

Tobey (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) runs a garage in the upstate New York backwater of Mt. Kisco, where he and his buddies soup up cars and go racing in the streets. Tobey’s old rival, affluent asshole Dino (Dominic Cooper), comes back to town after having stolen Tobey’s girl and vamoosed to Manhattan. Dino pays poor Tobey and the buddies big money to work on a fancy Mustang, but these fellows just can’t get along. One thing leads to another, and during an impromptu race on the freeway one of the buddies gets blown up to death. Tobey winds up in jail while Dino gets off Scott-free, though everyone knows buddy’s death was Dino’s fault. Except it wasn’t entirely Dino’s fault. One of the appalling things about Need For Speed is the way it keeps making Tobey out to be the bad-ass hero and righter of injustices, when the guy repeatedly puts the lives of countless innocent strangers into harm’s way with his at times needless reckless driving and daredevil stunts. Our engagement depends on our sensing the tragedy of Tobey’s buddy’s death, but we don’t even know how many people were injured, maimed or killed during the multiple chases and crack-ups, most of which are caused by Tobey.

Anyway, the music is wildly overwrought, the movie over-long and the characterizations over the top. Dino is so bad, he only wears black! Paul’s performance is largely a matter of raspy delivery and hard stares. Imogen Poots shows up as a token love interest in misguided headscarves and a posh accent. Michael Keaton has a bit as a pirate jock radio variation on the DJ from Vanishing Point. As promised, the sequences in which Tobey’s behind the wheel—flying over Michigan off-ramps, refuelling without stopping, getting airlifted out of Utah—are truly thrilling, but everything else is a snooze. “This isn’t just about racing,” someone declares. They’re wrong. 

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