By Mike Dyer, Senior Writer
New to theaters this spring is a film adaptation of a successful video game franchise. “Need for Speed” is what Disney hopes to one day compete with Universal’s “Fast and the Furious” franchise. Considering when it was about to enter its fifth weekend at the box office and it was yet to break $200 million worldwide this seems unlikely. This is somewhat of a shame considering that “Need for Speed” might be one of the best car-centric films to come around in the past 15 years. Packed with excellent stunts, good story and good casting “Need for Speed” runs the gears from slow and cheesy before it puts the pedal to metal with some of the best driving sequences caught on film.
“Need for Speed” is the story of Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) who after the death of his father is left to run his dad’s custom car shop. Together with his friends Maverick (Scott Mescudi), Joe Peck (Ramón Rodríguez), Finn (Rami Malek) and Pete Coleman (Harrison Gilbertson) they struggle keep the shop open. When an old racing rival of Tobey’s show up in town, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), he offers the crew the build of a lifetime: to finish the last Mustang legendary car builder Carroll Shelby was working on before he died. Dino explains that he plans to sell the car once it is finished and offers the shop 25% of what the car sell for at auction. Not able to put their ego’s aside, Dino challenges Tobey and Pete to a street race with the stakes being if either of them beat him then Tobey takes 75% of the sale. During the race Pete is pinned by Dino and his car flips going close to 200mph and bursts into flames killing him. Dino fleas the scene and denies ever being involved in the race, leaving a chaotic Tobey to be charged with involuntary manslaughter for Pete’s death. Two years later, Tobey is released from prison. Immediately he initiates a plan to avenge Pete and prove his innocence.
Directed by Scott Waugh “Need for Speed” utilizes a story that is perhaps a little far-fetched, but is cleverly tied with the action taking place. A native stunt man Waugh, utilizes a very realistic approach when it comes to stunt driving. Unlike the “Fast and Furious” franchise that relies heavily on CGI, all the driving in “Need for Speed” was real and relied on well executed stunts. Adding to the realism is the sound mixing that utilizes the actual exhaust sounds of the respective cars being driven, verses using stock sound clips. This along with the road trip element gives the film the flavor of some of the great car centered flicks of yesteryear such as “The Gumball Rally” and “Smokey and the Bandit.” Complementing the film is a natural lighting approach that feels bright , helping the film portray a sense of optimism even in tense moments. Giving the film an old school feel is its soundtrack that when isn’t utilizing an overly dramatic score, is full of modern covers of classic rock songs.
The Casting for “Need for Speed” is subpar, but memorable. Dominic Cooper is believable as the villain, but a cheesy villain at best. Imogen Poots is charming and fills the role of Julia well. Standing out from the supporting cast is Rami Malek. Who’s “Finn” proves to be the film’s most memorable character. Aaron Paul, fresh off the set of the award winning series “Breaking Bad”, is fantastic in the role of Tobey Marshall, perhaps a bit too fantastic for the film as he easily out shines some of the supporting cast such as Dakota Johnson. Despite this I very much enjoyed the film. “Need for Speed” is a wonderful tribute to what car films were 30 years ago and gives us a glimpse of what they are missing today. Along with the heart of the story the films comedic moments succeeded in making the walls echo with laughter.
I would recommend “Need for Speed” to any film fan, whether or not they are into cars. While not an excellent film, it certainly is an entertaining one. The entertainment factor comes from the film’s story that perhaps tries just a tad too hard to play an emotional chord. Regardless the films faults in casting and soundtrack prove to be minor when compared to notion that all car films should have: the messages of responsibility and consequence that comes from being behind the wheel. “Need for Speed” reminds us that no matter what highway we find ourselves on what is really important is who is taking the journey with us and that redemption can lie just around the next corner.