Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Movie Review: Need For Speed (2014)

Even with Hollywood as it is today, reaching for anything and everything to turn into the next big blockbuster, there is still a major stigma attached to one source material for adaptations: Video games. Maybe it’s because of the inherent nature of games to be less about the plot and more about the interactive experience, maybe it’s because the majority of video game movies are absolute garbage (with the exceptions of the original Mortal Kombat, Prince Of Persia and maybe Hitman), or maybe it’s both. Regardless, there is a heavy expectation whenever one is released that it will be bad, made even heavier if the source material is less focused on plot than its neighbours. Today’s film is just such an occasion: This is Need For Speed.

The plot: Tobey (played by Aaron “Gatorade me, Bitch!” Paul) is a street racer who gets locked away in prison on a manslaughter charge that he didn’t commit. Now fresh out of prison and on parole, he has to make it to the other side of the U.S. with the help of his team in order to compete in the De Leon, an elite street race, to redeem himself and get revenge on Dino (played by Dominic Cooper), his rival and the man who set him up.

The acting here is actually pretty good for the most part. While I can see Aaron getting flack for being a bit of a weenie (let’s not kid ourselves) and not exactly being perfect main character material for this kind of testosteroverdosage, he actually fits with the character he’s given. Tobey, while on the typical vengeance path that we see in action fodder, focuses more on the emotional impact of his arc instead of just using the path as his excuse to start the body count, and it… kind of succeeds. More on that in a bit. Dominic Cooper, on the other hand, needs flack given to him for his performance here. It’s at that level where I swear that the casting director was intentionally looking for the lamest antagonist ever, somehow managing to drop the bar lower than he did with Dracula Untold. I will at least give credit that his character here isn’t as stupid as his role in Dracula, but then again his intelligence is hardly the issue here. He has no real presence on screen; while Aaron is able to pull his weight on his own, scenes with both him and Dominic feel more like a fight in a high school… no, scratch that, a primary school playground than anything that would involve jail time. However, there are two actors who make this movie a bit better with their presence, the first being Scott Mescudi AKA Kid Cudi. Yeah, rappers-turned-actors aren’t usually anything to get excited about, but Cudi has that kind of charisma and slickness on screen that he just sells everything he’s given; his wise-ass comments from his usual seat in a plane flying overhead make for a lot of the film’s better script moments. The other actor who makes this ride a bit more fun is Michael Keaton as Monarch, the host of the De Leon. Keaton has a good pedigree for manic on-screen performances, as shown in his roles in Beetlejuice and Much Ado About Nothing, and he brings out another can of that here. Most of the role is delegated to being in the background until the finale at the De Leon, where his commentary helps elevate the scene even further. On reflection, the acting here is pretty good in more that it averages out to being pretty good.

One of the more obvious comparisons I could make with this movie is to the Fast & Furious series, and it really seems unavoidable here as this also has some really dumb writing moments. Quite possibly the most glaring problem with the plot is the entire reason that it exists: The initial scene where Dino kills Tobey’s friend and frames Tobey for it. The amount of logical gaps in this one scene and the conclusion drawn by the in-universe police that Tobey was responsible for it never once failed to bother me for the entire running time. The main reason I say that Dino isn’t an idiot here is because, if the police failed to notice the evidence that should be there, then they are the real idiots of the story.

To compound on this, we also have the messy business of the attempt to add drama that really isn’t needed. While the Need For Speed series generally has more plot than its competitors, we’re still talking about a racing game: The plot is by no means important and is mostly just a reason to get from race to race, start to finish. In fact, whenever Need For Speed games did put more focus on the story (e.g. Undercover, The Run), the result was anything but compelling. Don’t get me wrong, I honestly had a bit of fun with the plots in the original Most Wanted and Carbon way back when, but the main focus of the series should be on racing and evading/destroying police cars, not the store-brand drama that we get here. Strictly as an adaptation, this movie fails to build on even that basic framework… for the most part. I say that because the De Leon, in all honesty, is exactly what Need For Speed makes me think of: High speed intense racing, wrecking police cars as they try to disable your car, all with cool music to zoom your way through. Combine this with Keaton’s great commentary over it all and you have a pretty fantastic finale, and this is coming from a guy who isn’t even that big on car chases in movies. It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie wasn’t more like this; instead, it tries to take itself way too seriously and falters as a result. Also, on a minor note, the music is pretty haphazard too: The opening race scene, for some unknown reason, has no music in it. Like, at all, save for an out-of-nowhere dramatic sting that literally serves no purpose other than throwing off the audience for a few seconds.


All in all, this is nowhere near the worst video game movie I’ve seen but it isn’t good either. While I won’t say that I went into this with good expectations, I feel seriously let down if only because the finale did the premise almost flawlessly whereas the rest of it didn’t. It ranks higher than The Hundred-Foot Journey, as at least the plot here feels like it was edited properly, but lower than Step Up: All In, which knew what its strengths were and focused on them for the most part. This hits ‘mediocre-to-bad’ on the list; if you can find the De Leon as a clip on its own somewhere, by all means check that out, but otherwise it isn’t worth it.

1 comment:

  1. Need For Speed... needed less speed and more power. As is, it's something that, like most flashy things, will eventually fade out and be forgotten.

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