Director: Scott Waugh
Cast: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots
Watch Need for Speed online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Need for Speed is a good computer game. It has cars. It has sirens. And, most of all, it has speed. Scott Waugh’s film adaptation contains all of the above – but that doesn’t stop it from being a pile of junk.
Aaron Paul plays Tobey, an action hero with the world’s least action hero-esque name. A nice-guy mechanic, he finds himself working with his old rival – and villain of the piece – Dino (Cooper), the world’s only bad guy with a name worse than Tobey. He wears black. And is sleeping with Tobey’s ex.
When Dino causes the death of a friend, Tobey is wrongfully arrested. After he is released from jail, he plans revenge the only way he knows how: by driving. With a team of equally cliched characters. Luckily, a big race is coming up, hosted by a DJ called Monarch, which Dino is the favourite to win.
It sounds like a simple enough plot and first time writer George Gatins deserves credit for not dressing up the story as something it is not. Need for Speed the game has always been about one thing: driving cars really quickly. The problem is that this is a movie not a video game. A video game narrative, no matter how insubstantial, can last for days while players navigate their way through levels, puzzles or difficult race tracks. A film narrative, on the other hand, should be as slick and well-oiled as possible. Need for Speed takes its time stretching out the premise to fill up two hours and 12 minutes: for a tale involving three races and no interesting humans, it runs on empty. You end up wishing you could play it rather than watch it.
The fantastically slimy Dominic Cooper is clearly enjoying himself as Dino, but the rest of the cast are cookie-cutter characters at best. There is Rami Malek’s Finn, whose only contribution to the plot is taking his clothes off. There is Scott Mescudi’s wise-cracking Benny, who flies helicopters because helicopters are another loud, exciting vehicle. And there is Imogen Poots’ token Brit, Julia, a Girl Who Knows About Cars and – to her credit – gets a chase of her own, until she is forced to switch to the passenger seat and mindlessly coo over Tobey’s skills. “You’re amazing!” she sighs as he leapfrogs over a dual carriageway.
Aaron Paul does his best as the lead, crying about ex-mates and looking angry when he gets angry, but the script is more stunted than the high-octane set pieces, turning the whole thing into a shallow, silly affair.
Shallow and silly can still fuel a blockbuster: Need for Speed follows the tyre tracks of the hugely successful Fast & Furious franchise. It took five films until that series found its funny bone and upped the ante to include exploding planes. Need for Speed’s rubber-burning action is fast and decent, but Waugh’s presentation (and the chases themselves) lacks imagination. Crucially, by the time the final race comes around, it never feels like the stakes have shifted gear from the first one – even with Michael Keaton’s DJ shouting frenzied commentary over the top. If it zipped along in 90 minutes, many of these flaws could be forgiven. But over the long distance, powered by second hand jokes, vapour-thin people, a watered down plot and workmanlike races, the movie’s engine soon starts to stall.
Need for Speed has cars. It has sirens. And, most of all, it has speed. But Scott Waugh’s film forgets that an audience without a control pad needs more to engage. It would make a good computer game. As a film, it’s disappointingly dull.
Need for Speed is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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