Movie Review: Belt yourself in for a wild ride in 'Need for Speed'

For the News-DemocratMarch 13, 2014 

What It's About

Implausible and predictable, the high-octane actioner "Need for Speed" manages to entertain with dazzling stunts and personable actors. Just don't expect it to surpass the "Fast & Furious" franchise.

Yet, for mindless adventure -- OK, you have to suspend belief more than a few times -- it's a pleasant diversion. That's mainly because two-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul ("Breaking Bad") gets a pass for following up his beloved turn as Jesse with playing a wrongfully accused street racer out for vengeance.

Paul, and his character Tobey, are just plain likable guys. You connect with him, no matter how ludicrous the plot situations are. This shouldn't spoil anything, but seriously, dude, you needed a better lawyer.

Well, what can you expect from a movie based on a videogame? That's pretty much all you need to know.

As Tobey, a custom auto shop owner and revered drag racer in his idyllic upstate New York small town, Paul leads a motley crew of gearheads and a posh Brit on a cross-country mission in order to race in the fabled "The De Leon," an illegal street race that's a highly-prized invitation only.

Performances

Besides Paul's winning ways, we have the delightfully manic Michael Keaton ("Mr. Mom") standing out as the race maestro commenting over the Internet. His gleeful motormouth delivery is akin to Wolfman Jack in "American Graffiti," and he leaves you wanting more Keaton on screen.

Keaton is definitely a high point. So are the comic relief bits of hip-hop star Kid Cudi, aka Scott Mescudi, as Army Reserves pilot Benny. He is the wingman in the sky, and pulls off preposterous stunts.

Rami Malek is another affable sidekick who has moments to shine. He is Tobey's longtime pal, as is Harrison Gilbertson as Little Pete, whose leggy sister Anita (Dakota Johnson) just happens to be Tobey's ex-girlfriend. She is now dating a scummy narcissistic rich guy, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), who is the dastardly villain. He gained street cred as a NASCAR pro, but it's clear early on that he will be the bane of their existence. Cooper ("An Education") is one-note, and the character doesn't have a shred of decency.

Imogen Potts ("A Late Quartet") manages some spunk in the thankless role of the reluctant participant whose sparring with the good guy will eventually soften. You see that coming a mile away, so I'm not giving up information here.

What Works

Director Scott Waugh ("Act of Valor") is a former stuntman, and excels at staging eye-popping derring-do with dangerous automobiles. There is some work here that is of the jaw-dropping "How Did They Do That?" variety. For instance, a mad airborne leap across multiple lanes of highway traffic, a helicopter rescue in tall narrow canyons, and a roll-over accident that is as horrifying as it is gravity-defying.

The mere use of a 50th-anniversary prototype Mustang must have muscle car lovers salivating. It's really a cool car. Swedish Koenigseggs are also featured, and there are homages to "Bullitt," "Cannonball Run" and any classic car movie.

What Doesn't Work

Plot contrivances, conveniences and disbelief abound. Two writers were responsible for the story and two for the script -- adapted from a video game? Cue in the sappy music, and you have to turn off your brain for a while. Just enjoy the visceral and the awe-inspiring beauty of America.

2 stars out of 4

Director: Scott Waugh

Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Harrison Gilbertson, Dakota Johnson, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Michael Keaton.

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language

Length: 2:10

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