When beginning to adapt a video game franchise based around fast cars going very quickly, you’re not exactly spoilt for source material. Surely, the first thing you have to work with is the title: Need For Speed. That at least gives you something. The characters must need speed. Adrenaline, perhaps. An uncaring attitude towards their own mortality, maybe. A desire to ‘live life on the edge’, could work. It’s not much, but it gives you a starting block cliché to work from, a framework to mold your characters within. After over two hours of unrelenting movie, I remained completely unfulfilled in my quest to understand why Aaron Paul and his merry band of criminals have a need to drive fast and why they seem to think their testosterone-driven rivalries justify the slaughter of countless collateral innocents on public roads. The only point of engagement seemed to lie in the question: just who could claim to own the bigger appendage?
The film begins by centring on a bunch of guys in open jackets, tight t-shirts and arms folded, all appearing to be pinched from poorly rendered cut scenes. These guys can be quite simply reduced to just ‘the guys’, who own a garage working on fast cars. They are our guys and we are meant to care about these guys. Our guys are lead by Tobey Marshall who constructs a high stakes bet with ‘rival’ Dino (Dominic Cooper), involving a super fast street race. It’s unclear exactly why Tobey and Dino are rivals besides the fact that it is claimed Dino moved away and became a big shot, and thus they are rivals. Compelling storytelling isn’t something Need For Speed gets too bogged down in, but it’s largely played with an austere sense of seriousness. During the race, Tobey’s friend is run off the road by Dino, yet it’s Tobey who’s caught and sent to prison. Oh, the injustice. Haven chosen to race at 200 mph on public roads, how unfair life can be when you get locked up when someone dies in the process. Rather than re-evaluating his life upon release, he embarks upon another 200 mph dash across the country in an effort to race his ‘rival’ again, leaving further carnage in his wake.
At one point, an absurdly fast street race swerves a school bus. Thank goodness this film has a sense of morals, thinking about the children. That is at least until several more cop cars are driven over like skittles and their sons and daughters will never again get a kiss goodnight from Daddy. Some might say ‘Oh, it’s just a bit of fun, don’t take it so seriously’ – maybe that would be true if the film had so much as an inkling on what makes coherent plotting and how to build stakes that mean anything, or how to have a sense of humour. Imogen Poots plays her perpetually spoilt daughter schtick, this time as Paul’s china doll wingman, treated as a damsel in distress before it’s realised she can also drive incredibly fast and leave behind just as many animal shelter volunteers and cancer patients in her wake as the next bloke. But not the school bus, they swerved the school bus because they think about these things.
Aaron Paul, dear Aaron Paul. The man is absurdly talented and along with millions of Breaking Bad fans I’m desperate for the man to succeed and get the universal praise he deserves. It really gives me no pleasure to say what a stinker he has chosen to immediately follow up his tortured meth-head drug cook. After filming a final season of television which took his character to darker places and more intense places than anyone thought even Breaking Bad could reach, I really hope Paul enjoyed getting to drive some insanely fun fast cars, whilst accruing a massive pay cheque in the process. He has absolutely nothing to get stuck into here, cast as the sympathetic, heroic lead but written as a conceited ego.
I’m not a car aficionado admittedly, but I find it unlikely even those who describe themselves as the biggest ‘petrol heads’ and find James May’s banter with Richard ‘The Hamster’ Hammond ‘hilarious’ will find too much to get sucked into, simply because there’s nothing here that they couldn’t find in the countless incarnations of the video game series. It will be curious to see how Need For Speed fares at the box office with a moderate-to-large budget ($66m) and no A-list name to back it up besides the brand name of a tiring video game franchise. It’s all an ugly mess, played with an absurdly straight face considering the ludicrousness of it all, littered with an aggression and intensity which seems to stem from absolutely nowhere real.
Need For Speed 3D is out on 12th March in the UK and 14th March in the US. Running time 130 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).
MFR Rating: 1/5