Need for Speed
Starring: Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots
Review written by Robert D. Patrick
Need for Speed is a testosterone-shot in the form of tenderized rubber and knuckle-numbing abandon. Based on the video game franchise of the same name, this juiced up opus about vigilante justice will be a surefire hit with wrench-heads and action junkies alike. The story isn’t excruciatingly clever – Syd Field is probably rolling over in his grave to the point of becoming a river rock – but it doesn’t necessarily matter in this bone-jarring universe: This is a world where grease and oil become warpaint and souped up cars rev their engines as if they were baying at the moon.
It’s all visage and no guts. It’s dumb, brutish fun for fist-pumping Gen-Exers and soda pop brined Millennials. It’s a sandbox for violence and irresponsibility. It’s also an adrenaline driven boot print to the head. For all of the characters being smarmy, intolerable brats, Need for Speed delivers on its promise of eviscerated metal and splintered windshields. Chase scenes revolve around expertly shot spin-outs and furrowed brows. There is nothing dilatory about director Scott Waugh’s phantasmagoria of fire and carnage.
Even with all of the hyper-violent pseudo-dreck that rains down on every scene, the real accidents only occur when actual humans speak. Forget delivering dialogue. Watery-eyed Aaron Paul can agonize, fret, and weep all he wants but he’s playing for an audience that only wants to see a wheel fly off of a vanity car. Imogen Poot, Paul’s co-star, manages to turn out a better performance than the film deserves. Meanwhile, hip-hop trouper Kid Cudi appears only to provide flaccid one-liners in times of duress.
The real star of Need for Speed is Michael Keaton. Entrenched behind a cat’s cradle of computers and headphones, Keaton plays a wily race impresario named “Monarch.” Despite bobbing his zany face around a myriad of webcams, Monarch remains an elusive internet sensation and man of mystery. The FBI cannot catch him, because how are you supposed to nab a man who’s face you’ve seen everywhere? Keaton’s performance is one of grandiose animation. He gyrates, swirls, and articulates his body to look like a marionette being controlled by a spinning fan blade. He even lets out a wispy “heh-heh” as if he had forgotten that he is no longer playing Beetlejuice.
The real star is the direction of the action sequences. Beautifully rendered and shot, these cars zip by with believable speed. Even if Need for Speed is a glorified Ford Mustang commercial, the guttural roar of engines and the pop of the paint is enough to sway audiences without car fetishes. Sure, Waugh’s film has the brain of a cinder block, and, if you look at it too hard, you will hate how poorly the story is conceived. But Need for Speed sets out what it aims to do: be bro-bait with the heart of a fist-pump. Even if it’s a little too long, nobody can call it moribund. Problems aside, it’s a fun, daft time at the movies.