As yet another film based on a lucrative video game franchise looking to print money on the silver screen, Need for Speed doesn’t exceed the speed limit by any means.
Aaron Paul stars as Tobey Marshall, an automotive mechanic who moonlights as a street racer when he isn’t just standing around wearing leather jackets. Behind on a loan payment on his garage, inherited from his recently deceased father, Tobey accepts a commission to build a car for rival racer Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), who went pro and subsequently stole Tobey’s girlfriend (Dakota Johnson), promising Tobey a quarter of proceeds of the car’s $2.7 million price tag. Putting it all on the line in a street race in a lame display of macho stupidity, Dino cheats Tobey out of the winnings and frames him for vehicular manslaughter to boot.
Never mind that Need for Speed is a hackneyed revenge story that fails to do anything remotely new or interesting in its two-hour-plus running time. Present in full force are the expected schlock and awe machinations of a script that consistently mishandles every interaction that doesn’t directly involve rubber meeting asphalt.
Played for laughs is Imogen Poots’ character of Julia Madden, a British high-end car dealer whose first three meetings with Tobey consist of alarmingly outdated girls-don’t-know-guy-stuff gags made all the worse when it turns out she’s supposed to be Tobey’s love interest (you spend the rest of the film increasingly upset at the pairing as the unbelievable romance inevitably blossoms).
Paul brings none of the charisma that made him famous on Breaking Bad, dialing in a vacuous performance for an exceedingly dumb character who mistakes brooding for substance. Poots is naturally funny and injects the film with some much-needed humanity, but her charms are too frequently deafened by the exhausting supporting cast, the most egregious example of which is Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi’s military pilot, whose incessant wise-cracking ought to land him an indefinite prison sentence on the Disney Channel.
Need for Speed’s sole point of recommendation is its well-executed race sequences. As lovingly as the growl, screech and crunch of the various supercars are conveyed, though, it’s a drag when they turn out to be more articulate than the rest of the cast.