The 400-Word Review: Need for Speed
By Sean Collier
March 17, 2014
There are certain things that will almost always be interesting on the big screen: Large reptilian monsters knocking down sizable buildings. Men with weathered faces riding horses across Monument Valley. Zombies doing pretty much anything.
And: Fast cars being recklessly driven very close to one another.
Such is the driving (sorry) force behind Need for Speed, a film that borrows its title from an also-ran video game franchise and its inspiration from the car pictures of decades ago. Give a group of people a place to be, some impressively speedy rides in which to get there and a callous disregard for life and limb, and you’ve usually got a picture. Need for Speed’s real problem, though, is that it corrupts that pure system with an utterly unnecessary add-on: plot.
Who needs a plot?
In this case, it has something to do with a hotshot underground driver (Dominic Cooper) who fears competition from a fellow gearhead (Aaron Paul) from his hometown. After the townie’s crew puts together a custom vehicle for the well-connected racer, an impromptu high-stakes race leads to the fiery death of some other guy, and there’s a cover-up, but this rich British girl (Imogen Poots) is there and... you know what, I don’t really remember.
Realism, motivation, emotional connection: these are the enemies of the car-race film, not the allies. And in Need for Speed, they serve only to drag out the proceedings and add unnecessary bulk in between automotive action. Another week or so in the editing room can often work wonders.
So, too, can a more seasoned cast. Paul and Michael Keaton, as a mysterious illegal-race financier, are excellent; Paul in particular offers far more than Need for Speed deserves. Poots is fine. The rest of the cast is staggeringly bad, with the ineffective and completely unconvincing Cooper the worst offender. Unfortunately — and bewilderingly in a film built around its star — Need for Speed is presented as something of an ensemble effort, which gives a lot of hapless performers too many lines to read. Add in the fact that these clueless youths have to share the screen with Paul, a master-in-training, and the bad performances quite nearly ruin an otherwise mediocre movie.
Need for Speed is far from worthless as a collection of finely filmed car scenes (purportedly done with practical effects and real stunts). Unfortunately, it overflows with unnecessary scenes and useless actors.
My Rating: 5/10
Aggregate Rating on CriticsChoice.com: 59/100
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark