Need For Speed

Director    Scott Waugh
Starring    Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton, Scott Mescudi
Release    14 MAR (US) 12 MAR (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars

Matt Looker

8th March 2014

Considering the Fast And Furious series has effectively already won the race of the 'fast car movie' genre, do we really need another film about driving? Do we really need more shots of someone shifting a gearstick a dozen times, of feet slamming down on pedals, of screeching, smoking tyres? In essence, is there really a Need for more Speed?

Well, 'yes'. And also 'duh'. Because while the Fast And Furious guys change to a gear more suited to action-packed heist movies, the franchise can get a little bogged down in the drama of the long-term characters involved. Need For Speed, however, has no time for bromance or camaraderie or - ugh - explaining to its wife that she doesn't understand, "this is something it just has to do".

No, here we get back to basics with a simple tale of revenge and illegal street racing. Exposition is light, action is quick, stunt-driving is awesome. And with a tight, concise plot and zippy pace, this film really does convince that there is a... uh... requirement for haste.

Anyone who has seen the motivation-heavy trailer for the film might have justified concerns as to whether Breaking Bad's Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul to the remaining 5% of the population that hasn't seen the show) can cut it as a leading man. After all, this is a film about excitement, acceleration, weaving in and out of traffic and cheekily keeping one step ahead of the police... and Paul is just so intense.

"Driving cars is the only thing that keeps me from murdering your parents."

But it works here. Getting released from prison two years after the death of his close friend at the hands of a deliberate, illegal race manoeuvre, the film doesn't want to spend time on grief and mourning. Not when there's pedals to be floored and dust to be bitten. So instead, Paul wears the tragedy on his face throughout, selling his character's motivation and reminding us at all times of the film’s driving force (as it were).

But Need For Speed knows to balance the 'drag' out with the 'race', keeping things cheerful with a requisite car crew of distinguishable talents. The most entertaining team member is Maverick, the fast-talking buddy who steals aircraft to hover above our main man and keep him updated on important traffic news. But in a zany way. And how does he get hold of these planes and helicopters? Who cares - VROOOOM!

In fact everyone gives as good as their characters require of them. Dominic Cooper provides grade-A douchebaggery, and Imogen Poots is a feisty love interest who remains delightful for the sheer quirk of her British accent. The only person who falls foul of superfluous scripting is Dakota Johnson, who appears as an ex-flame adding love-triangle tension to fuel Paul and Cooper’s rivalry, but fades into the distance as soon as the speedometer needle flickers up to We Don't Need You Anymore.

"Na na na na - we can't hear you over the sound of all this AWESOME"

Even Michael Keaton gives an enjoyably over-the-top performance, despite never once interacting with another cast member. As the video DJ known as Monarch who sets up and commentates over the film's climactic race, you get the impression that Keaton was just left in a room to half follow the script and half improvise the role of "passionate racing legend". Granted, some of the things that he says sounds more like what a 60-year-old Michael Keaton might ad-lib as 'down with the kids' rather than someone who actually has the finger on the pulse of the street-racing scene, but it all works to present this isolated character as someone who has grown out of touch with the culture he once dominated.

If anything, the film suffers a little bit from its insistence on too much speed. Considering that a fatal car crash of a beloved friend provides the impetus for the main plot, very little regard is shown for the safety of others during the subsequent races, with cars crashing and presumably people dying as a result of these drivers' pretty frivolous hobby. At one point even a school bus comes into play and ends up just being another obstacle for the racers to overcome, rather than a factor with potentially devastating consequences.

Likewise the film shows a blatant disregard for the police in a way that hasn't been seen since '70s exploitation flicks. They aren't the villains of the film by any means, but the authorities are there to be scuppered, flouted and beaten at every turn despite the fact that it is perfectly reasonable for them to try to prevent this illegal activity from causing untold damage and harm. And just to show how little respect the film has for the police, they are shown using prevention tactics that are just as dangerous as the racers themselves. It all leaves doubts as to whom you're really supposed to be rooting for.

Fuck it, anyone who is against illegal street-racing doesn't deserve to live anyway.

And yet, these are hang-ups for a film that is already doing a lap of honour by the time you think of them. When a film moves along at such a fast pace, who has time to wonder why some cars explode easily upon impact and others burn for a little while as and when the plot requires them to? Or why a race cliché of two drivers eyeing each other side by side is resolved when one of them just puts his foot down even more on the accelerator? Or even the fact that, Aaron Paul’s purposeful protagonist doesn't actually seem to have a clear plan or reason to compete in the final race?

No, when you just enjoy getting swept up in the momentum of this simply told, succinctly plotted, stupidly fun movie, there’s no time to be concerned about plot niggles. A need for speed indeed.

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