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3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Need for Speed
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Just Bad. . ."
1 stars

A couple of weeks ago, you will recall that I offered up a review of the airplane-based thriller "Non-Stop" and, in the course of it, suggested that it may have contained more than its fair share of lapses in logic and plausibility--the word "preposterous" may have popped up once or twice and if I didn't flat-out claim it to be one of the stupidest movies to come along in quite some time, that sentiment was clearly bubbling just under the surface of whatever it was that I did say. And yet, I find myself in the distinctly oddball position of wishing to offer the film a public apology for those comments. No, I have not suddenly discovered a wealth of thematic riches that had gone previously undetected and no, I have not been accosted by the all-powerful Lupita N'Yongo lobby that is making sure that her every move strikes a powerful blow for the rights of all preternaturally beautiful Yale graduates. The reason for my willingness humble myself in such a public way is a simple one--since watching "Non-Stop," I have seen "Need for Speed" and have there born witness to a level of cinematic stupidity that not even a gumdrop like that could even dream of achieving. Believe me, "Need for Speed" is one of the dumbest things I have ever seen in my life--a total mouth-breather of a film if ever there was one--and since it is being foisted upon audiences via the patently unnecessary miracle of 3-D, it means that viewers can spend its running time sitting in the dark and looking themselves just as stupid as the movie to which they are bearing witness.

How stupid is it? Well, the film stars Aaron Paul, best known to most of you as that adorably conflicted meth dealer on the late and lamented "Breaking Bad." Paul is also currently featured in a commercial for some almond milk gunk in which he stands in his kitchen arguing with some animated blob about how he doesn't want to try the stuff because he is unsure of how it tastes--naturally, he relents, chugs it down and becomes such an instant convert that you would think that the stuff was laced with meth. Even by the standards of dumb TV commercials, this one makes virtually no sense for a number of reasons. Ignoring the existence of the animated thing, why would Paul have purchased the stuff in the first place if he was so determined to never try it? Furthermore, upon purchasing it, why did he choose to leave it sitting out on the counter instead of putting it in the refrigerator where it presumably should be stored? Finally, why would a quaff of presumably warm and gamey almond milk suddenly send him into paroxysms of delight? And yet, as inane and illogical as all of this is, this commercial is positively Mametian in terms of plausibility and air-tight logic when compared to the drivel that is "Need for Speed"--even the animated beast is closer to demonstrating recognizable human behavior than any of the theoretically flesh-and-blood characters on display here.

Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a poor-but-honest street racer and ace mechanic making a poor-but-honest living running a custom body shop in an upstate New York town so remote that when people talk of going to "the city," it sounds like a journey out of "The Hobbit." One who did make the journey is Dino Brewster (Dominic West), a slimeball who not only left to become a NASCAR champion but took Anita (future whipping girl Dakota Johnson), Tobey's ex-girlfriend and the sister of best pal Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), with him. Now Dino is back with an unfinished prototype for a 50th anniversary Ford Mustang, pretty much the Holy Grail of muscle cars, and a proposition--if Tobey and his crew can complete the car, he will cut them in for a share of the $3 million he has been offered for it by a British moneyman. Although Dino has never been anything but deceitful to him, Tobey is hurting for money and agrees. The sale goes off without a hitch but afterwards, Dino challenges him and Little Pete to a winner-take-all street race in a trio of souped-up race cars with the money as the prize. Alas, it all ends tragically as Little Pete crashes and dies, Dino races off and claims that he wasn't even there and Tobey is thrown in prison for vehicular manslaughter--apparently there were no street cameras or people with cellphones to document any of the race and the police failed to notice that there were no dents on Tobey's car to suggest that he bumped Little Pete as was claimed.

Two years pass and when Tobey is released from prison, he is determined to get revenge on Dino for framing him and leaving Little Pete to die. Of course, there is only one way to do this and that is by beating him at the upcoming De Leon, an annual secret event run by a mysterious billionaire (Michael Keaton)--we learn that his family "made their fortune during the Industrial Revolution," presumably by owning it--that is the Oscars of illegal street racing, or at least the Golden Globes. This requires a car and Tobey luckily manages to convince the owner of that virtually priceless Mustang that loaning it to a newly-released felon who plans to break parole by rushing at top speed from New York to San Francisco to run it in a street race against the guy responsible for his imprisonment is indeed a smoking-hot idea. The only caveat is that his assistant, sexy gearhead Jane (the wonderfully named Imogen Poots), comes along for the ride to protect his investment and prevent the film from turning into a total sausage fest. With his remaining friends in tow, Tobey, along with Jane, takes off on his cross-country journey, much to the delight of the billionaire racing kingpin, the consternation of Dino, who puts out a nationwide bounty on Tobey and the car, and Anita, who slowly begins to suspect that Dino may not be on the up and up after all.

Now I am not a dummy and I realize that "Need for Speed" is little more than a string of over-the-top stunt sequences spackled together with the most rudimentary narrative imaginable in an attempt to capture the enormous market for such things created by the surprisingly durable "Fast and the Furious" series. Those films, especially the last couple of entries, have proven to be fairly entertaining because they never take themselves too seriously (even the mock-profundities the characters occasionally spew are backed by a wink or two), they feature actors like Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez who have enough undeniable charisma to breathe life into their admittedly one-dimensional characters and because the car stunts, despite their overt cartoonishness, have generally proven to be genuinely spectacular for the most part. Evidently, the makers of this film, which is loosely inspired by the long-running video game series, spent more time studying the box-office grosses of the "Fast and Furious" films rather than what made them work with audiences because even the weakest of those films feels like a freaking masterpiece when compared to this idiocy.

Right from the start, when a clip from the classic "Bullitt" is shown, presumably as some form of cinematic benediction, it tries to position itself as one of the big boys in the car movie genre but never comes close to earning its place. The story never makes a bit of sense at any point in the proceedings--even the most forgiving gearhead may wonder why a desperate race from New York to San Francisco could afford enough time for a length Detroit detour--and randomly tosses in elements like the past romance between Tobey and Anita and the bounty put out by Dino, only to abandon them after a scene or two. The screenplay is also bizarrely structured--so much time goes into the cross-country race against time that the climactic De Leon winds up feeling like an afterthought--and at 130 minutes, it is ponderously long, especially since the whole thing could have been done in maybe 100 minutes top in more sensible hands. As for the stunts, there is one legitimately spectacular bit in which Tobey launches the Mustang 160 feet in the air over several lanes of traffic but for the most part, they are either too repetitive to generate excitement or too silly to be believed and in the wake of the recent death of Paul Walker, most of them now unintentionally leave a bad taste in the mouth.

At least the enormous cast of cars deliver in terms of performance, which is more than can be said about their human counterparts. Aaron Paul was unquestionably great on "Breaking Bad" but here, working with somewhat lesser material, he is just another blank who tries to replicate the effortless cool of the late, great Steve McQueen but only serves to underline just how rare of a cat McQueen really was. On the other hand, Dominic West so overplays his hand as the baddie that the only thing missing seems to be a sequence in which he ties Penelope Pitstop to some nearby railroad tracks and there is always the chance that could still turn up as a special feature on the Blu-Ray. The sprightly and endearing Imogen Poots is once again wasted on a nothing part and can barely conceal her disdain for the proceedings while Dakota Johnson is such a blank throughout that I am now eager to see the upcoming "Fifty Shades of Grey" adaptation just to see if any of the exertions on display there are enough to crack the veneer of dull surprise that she deploys throughout here. The best part of the film by a long shot is Michael Keaton, whose manic turn as the racing impresario offering up extended color commentary for the entire film is nonsensical but undeniably entertaining and energetic. It feels as if he is being beamed in from another movie and every time he departs, you'll want to follow him to that other movie, even if it is that lame "Robocop" remake.

When I was a wee lad, according to family lore, I was a bit of a child prodigy when it came to cars--for whatever reason, I could, much to the astonishment of others, identify most makes of automobiles after only a brief glimpse at the mere age of three. (Don't ask me how I did this, especially since I can now barely identify the make of car that I have been driving for years.) There is a slight chance, I suppose, that the three-year-old me might have gotten a kick out of "Need for Speed" because of all the car stuff involved. However, I would like to think that this proverbial three-year-old version of myself would have also preferred that it had undergone a rewrite or twelve in order to transform it into something slightly coherent or entertaining to anyone who isn't simply an undiscriminating action junkie. Hell, I am fairly certain that this three-year-old me could have done the job himself--at the worst, I couldn't have come up with anything more flagrantly idiotic than this.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24061&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/13/14 16:07:09
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell need to skip this movie 1 stars
9/26/14 mr.mike See "Vanishing Point" (1971) instead. 2 stars
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  14-Mar-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-Aug-2014

  12-Mar-2014 (12A)

  DVD: 05-Aug-2014

Directed by
  Scott Waugh

Written by
  John Gatins
  George Gatins

  Aaron Paul
  Dominic Cooper
  Imogen Poots
  Scott Mescudi
  Rami Malek
  Michael Keaton

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