Film Review: Need for Speed

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Plot: After his friend (Harrison Gilbertson) is accidentally killed in a drag race by his arch rival Dino (Dominic Cooper), racing prodigy Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is wrongfully convicted of the crime. After getting released from prison, Tobey vows revenge against Dino is the upcoming De Leon, a secret underground race conceived by a racing fanatic (Michael Keaton).

Need for Speed gave me the same type of feeling that a Transformers movie does. That feeling of pain, frustration, mind-numbing action, and worst of all, excruciatingly annoying characters that are just relentless. This was an absolute chore to sit through. Let’s not waste any more time, as we delve into the horror and douchebaggery that is Need for Speed.

Now surprisingly, the first fifteen minutes were actually okay. It’s nothing special, but I was entertained, and nothing annoyed me about it. Aaron Paul isn’t asked to do a whole lot with the main character, but he was likable enough, and I got a good sense of who he was. His group of friends however were complete throwaways. They lacked any sense of personality, and all their jokes fell flat. They weren’t annoying though, just forgettable. The first race looked really cool, and what I appreciated was how realistic it came across as opposed to the Looney Tunes cartoon you see in the Fast & Furious movies.The one aspect that irritated me about the first race though was the sound – it pounds your head like a jackhammer. It’s just unpleasant. Remember that image as you read on with the rest of this review. Let that sound effect set the tone for the rest of the movie.

Once Tobey is released from prison, and the real story begins is where the movie shifts from “okay” to “Oh my heavens, get me out of the theater!” The plot is cliché central, but whatever, I can live with that. The real problem are the supporting characters. At first they were just hackneyed and forgettable, but in the second act they transform into Mudflap & Skids level of annoyance. First off, we got Scott Mescudi playing Tobey’s best friend. He’s just a big walking stereotype of unfunny humor. Seriously, his comedy was so bad it made me feel uncomfortable. But the real stand-out of the Tobey best friends club was Finn, played by Rami Malek. There’s a scene where Finn is working at an office building, but has to quit his job and rejoin the crew. What follows is the lowest form of humor where he just strips down naked, struts through the office, sexually harasses every woman in sight, and then quits his job in “style.” What a comedic delight! How clever! Look, he’s naked! I’m in absolute stitches! Not only that, but the director (Scott Waugh) thinks we remember this guy from earlier scenes. Oh, remember this whacky character from earlier in the movie. Now he’s naked! Isn’t that funny? No. I don’t remember this person at all. Nothing was established about this guy except for a couple lame pick up lines at a bar. While that was annoying, Finn still isn’t the worst character in the film. That title belongs to the love interest.

Imogen Poots plays Julia, a beautiful car dealer who accompanies Tobey on his trip to California where the De Leon will take place. If Jar Jar Binks ever found love, it would be with this character. Wow. Julia is one of the most nauseating characters I’ve ever seen in a movie. When we first meet her, she’s fine. But once the plot really gets going, she becomes an unstoppable force of irritation. Every scene of humor involving her character is a complete and utter disaster. Whether she’s sweet talking cops, or getting girlishly giddy about Tobey’s driving maneuvers, you desperately want her to just go away. There’s a sequence in the film where Tobey’s buddies have to fill up his car with gas while driving. Despite this character being completely terrified and nauseous of Tobey’s fast driving just moments earlier, she’s still able to lean out the window of a ridiculously fast car and complete the procedure, just so the movie can say “Yeah! Girl power!” And let me be clear – I’m all for female characters being action stars, but this is NOT the way to do it. The best way to describe how I feel about this character is to imagine you’re on an escalator and your shoe lace gets caught, then you drop your coffee, get tangled up in your iPod headphones, and then bang your knee against the wall, all happening in the span of six seconds – just a constant barrage of frustration and aggravation.

The only two actors who are trying to make the best out of a bad situation are Dominic Cooper and Aaron Paul. Cooper plays the arch rival to Tobey, and is menacing enough. We obviously know Aaron Paul is a talented actor after Breaking Bad. For him, I just hope this movie comes and goes, and we can see him in better projects, because he deserves better. Michael Keaton also plays a key role as some racing fanatic who has his own podcast or something, I don’t know. He sponsors the De Leon. While not his fault, Keaton is just awful in this, which is a shame, because we just saw him get his mojo back in RoboCop. Keaton’s character just overdramatizes everything. It’s bad enough we got all the old clichés of arch rivals who want revenge against each other, but Keaton blows these up even more.

Speaking of clichés, this movie could have worked to some degree if they weeded out the crap storylines. What makes this film so bad is how drawn out it is. It’s over two hours long, and could have easily been 90 minutes. If they just made this a simple story about two racers, and cut out all the jail, on the run, revenge stuff, it would have been easier to swallow. There are three races in the film, and they are the most intense and best parts of the movie, so I have to give it credit for that. They felt somewhat realistic, whereas the action in the non race scenes borrows from the Fast & Furious school of action.

So that’s Need for Speed, just an unpleasant experience. Aside from all the terrible characters, what really pissed me off was how all these guys had no regard for innocent bystanders. Their macho Tommy ToughNuts drag racing is much more important than everything else in existence, so regular drivers like you and me be damned. How dare we be on the road at the same time. I understand it’s a movie, so I’m not going to harp on that too much, but it was a bit of a problem for me. At the end of the day, these characters are just like the jackasses who drive unnecessarily fast, and then rev up their engine as they blow by you, just completely and utterly obnoxious, much like this film.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10 (Atrocious)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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