Need For Speed
Directed by Scott Waugh
Starring Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, and Scott Mescudi
Scott Waugh directs a film that only a former stuntman like himself would be able to pull off so well. Need For Speed is a modern homage to classic car films like “American Graffiti,” with all of the racing and stunts you’d expect and some depth that you might not.
Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) has been living in the shadow of the local racer-turned-pro Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Street racing isn’t paying the bills, so he and his buddies agree to fix up a Mustang for Dino, but their rivalry, partly over Dino’s girlfriend but particularly over driving, gets the best of them. After serving time for a crime he didn’t commit, Tobey breaks his parole and drives across the country in a borrowed car with the owner’s representative (Imogen Poots), and he and his old friends enter street racing’s biggest event, the Deleon, in a somewhat convoluted revenge plot.
Despite what you might expect from DreamWorks, the stunts and explosions don’t involve any CGI, even when a car is launched over two lanes of traffic or cabled to an Apache helicopter before driving off a cliff. The action is so well directed that you may feel queasy watching the screen. In one early moment, Tobey’s young friend Petey is racing a Koenigsegg over a bridge when Dino taps his bumper and flips him over. We see Petey’s incredulous expression and then his view of the ground falling away below him. These sickeningly real moments are no doubt a nod to Entertainment Arts, the maker of the video game Need For Speed. The camera often shows the drivers’ views as they race through traffic, tunnels and tight curves, so it’s worth it to experience this movie in the theater. Don’t worry if you’ve never played the game, though — the plot of this film is entirely original.
With amazing stunts and sequences that put the audience in the driver’s seat, is there still a need for good acting or a plot? Need For Speed provides the first but not the second. Aaron Paul, best known for his role as Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad,” brings some depth to his role as Tobey. From his gravelly, almost Batman-esque voice when he’s feeling emotionally vulnerable to the warm camaraderie between him and his buddies on screen, it’s easy to forget Paul’s most well known role. Jesse who?
It’s not to say that this film is perfect. You can safely assume that a throwback to classic car movies of the 70’s is not going to pass the Bechdel Test and that Tobey is going to find the most macho way possible to get back at Dino, not the cleverest. The romantic subplot is predictable, but thankfully not overpowering. But even the least believable elements, like the uncanny ability of Tobey’s friend Benny (Scott Mescudi) to hot-wire Cessnas and steal helicopters from military bases, are just too fun not to enjoy.