Need for Speed

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Friday March 14, 2014

Aaron Paul
Aaron Paul   (Source:Dreamworks)

Given the success of "The Fast and Furious" franchise, it's inevitable that there would be an upstart successor seeking the same audience. "Need For Speed", derived from the popular video game that shares its name, is just that. But rather than the high stakes criminal antics that Vin Diesel, the Rock and (in the upcoming film) Jason Statham play, this action drama is more blue collar in nature, recalling such films from the 1970s as "The Cannonball Run" or "Smokey and the Bandit" in its story and stunts. That's not to suggest there aren't traffic laws broken in Scott Waugh's film -- these adrenaline junkies get their rocks off by racing in traffic or taking over highways for their own races.

One such race is called the De Leon, which is sponsored by a wealthy, eccentric ex-racer (named Monarch and played with manic exuberance by Michael Keaton) that pits some of the best of these renegade racers on twisty Northern California coast roads. That race ends this rather lengthy (130 minute) film and is something of an anti-climax. Many of the film's better stunts and thrills happen on the way there.

Aaron Paul and Dominic Cooper
Aaron Paul and Dominic Cooper  

Simply put, "Need for Speed" is pretty much an excuse for some amazing stunts, such as a car soaring over traffic on a Detroit street or a helicopter dropping out of the sky and picking up a car headed towards a cliff somewhere in the Southwest. Between the action sequences is a revenge story that centers on racer Tobey Marshall (an impressive Aaron Paul) and his vendetta against Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), a trust fund racer with unlimited funds and vicious tendencies. Brewster was responsible for the death of Marshall’s younger bud Pete (the Justin Bieberish Harrison Gilbertson), for which Marshall served a manslaughter sentence.

Out on parole, Marshall sets out to defeat Brewster in the De Leon. The problem? He neither has a car or an invitation to the secret event. But when a generous car enthusiast lends him a customized $3 million dollar Mustang to race, Brewster brings together his posse, which includes his trusted right hand Joe Peck (Ramón Rodríguez), mechanic Finn (Rami Malek) and Benny (hip-hop star Scott Mescudi), whose law-breaking antics include hijacking helicopters and Cessnas to assist in the cross-country trip.

Ramón Rodríguez, Aaron Paul and Rami Malek
Ramón Rodríguez, Aaron Paul and Rami Malek  

The only hitch is that the Mustang’s owner insists his assistant -- the car-savvy Julia Maddon (Imogen Potts) - join him on the trek to protect his investment. Marshall, though, is far more interested in his cars and his buds than making nice with Julia, which makes for some friction as they head across the country. Things get more complicated when Brewster sends his henchmen to keep Marshall from reaching the West Coast, which leads to one of the film’s more impressive sequences, where the Mustang must evade speeding trucks in the desert.

The script -- by George Gatins and John Gatins -- is pretty standard, though laced with enough humor and engaging characters to hold interest between the action sequences. Director Scott Waugh stages them skillfully -- if there’s any reason for seeing this racing drama is to see them; and to see Paul as the brooding Marshall. He brings a Ryan Gosling-like intensity to what is essentially a stock character. Potts is persuasive as the smart-ass Brit that Marshall softens towards; Mescudi provides laughs as the brash plane-stealer; Cooper is convincingly nasty as the sociopathic villain; and Malek provides beefcake in a funny sequence where he puts his white collar job behind him by stripping naked in the office. No doubt if the film catches on (which it might with its target audience of young men), there will be a sequel. As is, this isn’t a bad start at all to another franchise.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].