Yet not the raciest film that Dakota Johnson has ever been in (I’m referring to 21 Jump Street. It’s got that car chase scene). Need for Speed is a mega blockbuster franchise for EA, though one whose best days were behind them even by 2014. Still, a popular game franchise about cars that are fast starring a main character who is furious seems ripe for Hollywood to pick. Better yet, they managed to snag one of the hottest actors of the day, Aaron Paul, fresh off of Breaking Bad who just needs that one role to launch him into leading man territory. Add in a cast of promising actors like Rami Malek, Dominic Cooper, Dakota Johnson, Imogen Poots and my boy Kid Cudi and then also somehow convince Michael Keaton to be in it and you’ve got a promising start. Sadly, the film stalled out – critics hated it, the film made a decent $203.3 million at the box office but not enough to convince many people that this was the start of a brand new blockbuster series of films to rival that other one about cars. You know the one. Transformers.

The story revolves around Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) who runs his father’s garage after he passes away. His team of mechanics include Benny (Kid Cudi, or Scott Mescudi if you want to be formal about it), Finn (Malek), Joe (Ramon Rodriguez) and Pete (Harrison Gilbertson). Pete’s older sister is Anita (Dakota Johnson) who used to go out with Marshall but is now dating Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Tobey and Pete compete in a street race, Tobey wins it. As the gang celebrate back at the garage, Dino pops up with a proposition – forget about the past rivalry and help him revamp a legendary Ford Mustang. In exchange he’ll give the garage 25% of the sell on fee – the car is valued at $2 million. Despite the gang telling Tobey he doesn’t need to sell himself to his bitterest of bitter rivals, Tobey informs them that they need the money or the garage will be shut down so they get down to business.

Dino Brewster – the most “I’m an asshole racer” name ever conceived

They do a masterful job on the car and it catches the eye of Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots). After Tobey brags that he could make it do 230mph, she says that if it does then her boss will buy the car. Despite Dino’s warning not to drive the car, Tobey drives the car over 230 mph. This confirms the sale at $2.7 million. Dino is still mad at Tobey and he offers him a deal – one race. If Tobey wins he gets the 75% share but if Dino wins he takes the 25% share. To make things even more interesting, he allows young Pete to compete. The race is going Tobey’s way with Pete holding Dino back from. However, Dino purposely drives into Pete causing his car to crash and catch on flames. Tobey stops driving to check on his friend but Dino drives off. We then see the gang at the funeral sans Tobey, who was arrested and charged with manslaughter as the third car was never seen or found.

Two years later and Tobey gets out on parole and is picked up by Benny. Immediately he hatches a plan – he borrows the Ford Mustang from earlier with the intention to race in the De Leon. It is a legendary secret street race ran by a mysterious figure called The Monarch (Michael Keaton). The winner of the race goes away with every car that participates at a value of around $9 million. However, Julia arrives with the car and insists on accompanying Tobey all the way from New York to California in 45 hours. Initially Tobey tries to scare the poor girl into leaving the car by driving recklessly, with the help of his eyes in the sky Benny. However, she remains adamant that she is not going anywhere. Oh those two are all bickering and they can’t STAND each other, I can’t wait until they fall in love.

In addition to Benny and Joe helping Tobey to get to the race, they need the missing piece – Finn – who is now working a normal office job. He doesn’t take much convincing to come back to the squad though after seeing the car in motion he quits his job by stripping down completely naked (to ensure he never goes back) and the road trip is on. After helping Finn make a moving fuel refill on the highway, Julia starts to earn Tobey’s respect. I’m telling ya give it four more paragraphs in this review and they’ll be in love!

By this point they’ve made enough noise to grab the Monarch’s attention – the Monarch always saw potential in Tobey as a racer so kept tabs on him. Julia makes the Monarch even more interested by telling him that was a third car on the day Pete died and that Dino was the one driving it. The intrigue is too much for the Monarch who decides to give Tobey the last invitation to the De Leon. Dino makes it more interesting by offering his prized Lamborghini – of which there is only three in the world – to anyone who takes out the Ford Mustang.

This leads to a big chase as several drivers look to cash in that bounty by crashing into the Ford, shooting at it etc. At this point the future lovers (two more paragraphs) are at the point where he is letting her drive the car at this point but when all hope was lost Benny shows up in an Apache helicopter to lift them to safety – though he sacrifices his freedom to do so as he is court martialed. The Ford makes it to San Francisco mostly intact and Tobey checks-in for the race but bumps into Dino on the way. It looks like Tobey is about to fight Dino but he decides to beat in the only place where it counts – on the racetrack.

Kid Cudi or Scott Mescudi does a good job at bringing a little bit of fun to the film

Back at the car, Julia goes to book them into a hotel room (ONE MORE PARAGRAPH) and it looks like the sexual tension is about to turn into sexual sex (OH NO TOO EARLY) when they are struck by a truck (OH THANK GOD) which totals the priceless Ford Mustang and almost kills Julia. Tobey saves her life, Finn and Joe find them and drive her to the hospital. Tobey is distraught, his future girlfriend is hurt and worse than that he no longer has a car to race with. So he does what a lot of desperate young men do when they are desperate and young – they call their ex. Anita shows up to the meeting spot – she figured out that Dino was the one responsible for killing her brother and has called off their wedding. She apologises to Tobey for not being able to give him back the two years he spent in jail but does hand him a card with a code on it.

The code is for a garage where Dino hid the third car – the one that killed Pete – and now it would be the car Tobey uses to get his revenge. He goes to visit Julia and ensures her that he’s got a car. She tells him to do it for Pete before they share their first kiss (TOLD YA). The next day it looks like Tobey won’t make it to the race but at the last second he makes his big arrival, he throws Anita’s ring at Dino’s face and the race is on.

Very quickly the race devolves into chaos as the cops arrive to try and stop the illegal street race, those darn villains! One by one the other four racers are taken out by either the police or Dino’s dastardly death driving. Eventually the race becomes Dino vs Tobey, with Tobey in the lead. However, knowing what Dino is capable of, Tobey pulls behind and even teases doing what Dino did to Pete but to Dino. Eventually a clearer head prevails and he pulls level with his rival. However, Dino decides to be a dick and tries to ram into Tobey’s car, only for Tobey to break causing Dino to flip over his car as it catches on flames.

Tobey now has a clear run to the finish line but because he is the good guy in this film he just has to go back to save Dino’s life. He does so just as his Lambo is about to explode, punches Dino in the face ‘for Pete’ and then gets back into his car to finish the race before he can be arrested by the chasing police. He wins the race but more importantly, he proves his innocence by driving the missing third car which is confirmed to belong to Dino. Tobey is arrested but he is happy, he realised Pete’s dream for him (Pete had a vision of Tobey winning the De Leon) and took down the man responsible for his death.

The Monarch. It almost feels like a waste of Michael Keaton to be in this role.

Six months later we see Tobey leave jail and is picked up by Julia. They are about to link up with Finn and Joe as they go to pick up Benny who is getting out of army jail for good behaviour – he set up a twerk-based fitness routine for the inmates. That’s how the film ends.

I am either super desensitised to bad video game movies but I really didn’t think Need for Speed was all that bad. It doesn’t have the charm or the big action of the other big car-related movie franchise (The Italian Job) but it tried to do something a little different. It tried to have an emotional center with Pete’s death, but at no point did it try too hard to be dour or too hard to be funny. I honestly thought they struck a decent balance between moods.

The cast does okay but I kinda wish Michael Keaton put a little more ham on his performance of The Monarch. Like he hammed it up but I think he just needed a little more ham to be enjoyable. I’m biased because I like Kid Cudi but I thought his character was fun, I thought the dynamic between Julia and Tobey was fun but with one small issue. Aaron Paul is a good actor but he doesn’t quite make it as a leading man. It’s not the right role for him – he comes across as crazed when he’s meant to be happy or caring whereas he’s pretty good when he’s playing the more negative emotions. I know he can do a charming, funny performance but I think he lacks the right kind of charisma to be the main character in a movie like this. Dominic Cooper is perfect in the role of a smarmy dickhead of a racer and he does a good job of portraying someone who would not feel guilty about killing someone and framing someone else for it. Cooper was also good in Warcraft – it’s almost as if he is a good actor…

The car races I think are pretty good though the final one, the De Leon, the race the entire film has been building to – kinda falls flat and it’s largely because they IMMEDIATELY bring the cops into it. If they introduced the cops halfway through to heighten the drama that might have worked better but they just blew their load a little too quickly and as a result the race kinda needs a second boost later on and it doesn’t get it until Dino does a whoopsie and totals his car.

The film’s pace is all over the place – at times they skip forward a huge chunk of time and other times they let certain scenes go on too long. Like, one minute they are about to start working on the Ford Mustang at the beginning and the next scene is that party where they show off the car to potential buyers. Like, where’s the montage of the gang working on the car? On the other hand the whole section where they are in Detroit trying to convince Finn to come back to them lasts so long – between the initial car chase, Finn getting naked, the car chase continuing and then the bit after the chase where they talk to the Monarch and then Dino talks to the Monarch and then the Monarch talks some more while Anita sneaks onto Dino’s computer to find the evidence that he killed her brother. Like this whole sequence, almost every scene could be shortened down and it might have helped the pace of the movie somewhat. It’s a two hour movie with a 90-minute plot.

Overall though, yeah I didn’t hate this. It’s average but not in a boring way – I felt there was enough here to just keep me entertained. It’s probably not a good movie but I think my standards are slipping but also I really don’t think this is worse than any of the movies I’ve watched in the past few months. If I was to rank the video game movies I’ve seen it’d be safely midtable and that’s a good position with it. I think it’s biggest issue is the fact that it’s too easy to compare it to the other big movie franchise about cars and it is firmly in that franchise’s shadow. You know the one I’m talking about.

Taxi Driver.


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