Need for Speed has little style, less substance

Aaron Paul Need for Speed

‘Need for Speed’ is the latest in a long line of film adaptations of video games to completely and totally crap the bed.


There is a long and storied history of video games being made into successful feature films. First, there was Super Mario Bros. … oh wait, not that one. Street Fighter? Not so much. Wing Commander, Mortal Kombat, Doom and Bloodrayne all disappointed. The Lara Croft duology did pretty well, but the name “Angelina Jolie” on the posters probably gets most of the credit for that. No, the only property that’s performed well has been the Resident Evil series. The latest adaptation to hit the big screen, Need for Speed hopes to become the next exception and avoid falling prey to the rule.

Sorry folks, that’s not going to happen.

Did the Fast and Furious movies use every good storyline about illegal car racing?

At least most of the previous adaptations were based on franchises with stories. I’m not that familiar with the Need for Speed games, but a quick search of the Wikipedia page confirmed that the few installments that had stories certainly didn’t emphasize them. The movie, thus had nothing to pull from – nor was it tied to a lackluster, half-assed story. With a clean slate like that, one would hope that writer John Gatins could find an interesting way to incorporate the world of illegal car racing into a compelling story. Sadly, it looks like the Fast and Furious have used up all the good ideas.

Of Need for Speed’s myriad problems, the biggest one is structure and pace. It was 41 minutes in before audiences finally learned what the film was actually about. That first act was really a prologue that shouldn’t have lasted longer than 10 minutes. Once the story gets to that point, we finally learn what Tobey Marshall (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) wants to accomplish before the credits roll (though to be honest, only one of the results of winning the race – because you had to know it was going to be winning a race – actually comes to fruition). The middle of the film basically becomes a Cannonball Run remake, and the ending really comes out of nowhere.

Even the race sequences, the one thing the film should absolutely nail, are wildly inconsistent. The first (one of two in the wholly unnecessary “first act”) was tough to follow and you could see the end of the second race coming miles away. The final race? The stakes of that race are never all that defined. If it wasn’t for a last-minute plot contrivance, the result caused more problems than it resolved. The effects were all over the place; the stunt worked looked primarily practical (a refreshing change), but the explosions were poorly rendered CGI.

Need for Speed wasn’t all bad. Michael Keaton tiptoes on the “over-the-top” line as the eccentric race organizer. Romi Malek stood out of the crowd of sidekicks, and Imogen Poots was … there. Normally, when screening a movie where I’ve tripped over the expectations walking in the door, I end up enjoying the film more than I should. Sadly, Need for Speed was everything I expected it to be.

Photo Credit: DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC

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