Spinning wheels: Need for Speed

by Mark Burger

Need for Speed could have been worse. It also could have been better, and certainly it could have been shorter. It might even have been a good movie, but at 130 minutes it exceeds tolerance more than it does the speed limit. Besides, it’s based on a video game, and there has never been a good film based on a video game.

Aaron Paul, having graduated TV’s “Breaking Bad” (with a couple of well-deserved Emmys along the way), makes his bid for big-screen stardom by braking – and accelerating – repeatedly throughout the proceedings as our hero, one Tobey Marshall. Dominic Cooper, black threads and spiky pompadour all but advertising villainy, plays our antagonist, Dino Brewster. Imogen Poots plays the feisty British dish – Julia Maddon, by name – who tags along with Tobey on his cross-country jaunt, their verbal sparring masking the inevitable attraction.

Chiming in from time to time is Michael Keaton, as “the Monarch,” the on-line impresario of an illegal West Coast rally – called “the De Leon” – that takes up the film’s last, long overdue, act. Who wins and who loses is never in doubt, no matter how many tight scrapes Tobey and his super-charged Ford Mustang find themselves in.

Of course, there’s more to the race than just winning, as Tobey nurses a long-long-simmering grudge against Dino. Dino gets his. Tobey gets his – and her. And the audience, ostensibly, gets its requisite jolt of empty-headed adrenaline (in 2-D or 3-D, no less – as if it matters).

Need for Speed is an obvious attempt to replicate the (mystifying) success of the Fast and the Furious franchise, but it’s hardly the first. That it’s superior to Biker Boyz (2003) and Torque (2004) is, however, faint praise. Nevertheless, Paul and Poots are better than the material (what there is of it). Keaton, the ostensible “elder statesman” among the players, doesn’t have much of a role or a character, but his motormouthed color commentary is not without its amusing moments.

The cars are cool. The stunts are nifty (and plentiful). The editing (by Paul Rubell and director Scott Waugh) and Shane Hurlbut’s cinematography are attractive. Too bad Need for Speed feels the need to egregiously overstay its welcome. Besides, when you’ve seen one souped-up sports car flipping or flying through the air once, you’ve seen it a dozen times. Sure seems like it, anyway.