“Based on the video game by Electronic Arts” reads a credit near the end of Need For Speed; roughly all one needs to know that in the realm of gearhead films, this isn’t Two-Lane Blacktop. For that matter, it’s pretty far behind the stellar last two entries in the Fast & Furious series, with its leaden stabs at humor making one yearn for the sub-Howard Hawks group shenanigans of Vin Diesel and company.
Featuring Aaron Paul in his first major film role following his beloved stint as Jessie Pinkman in Breaking Bad, Need For Speed is shoddy in nearly every department except the one that counts: the car chases, which are lengthy, plentiful, urban & pastoral-bound, captured with as many cameras as possible (including GoPro for the tricky parts), and for the most part, pretty virtuosic and exciting. The narrative is only there to facilitate said sequences, with Paul’s Tobey Marshall hell-bent on revenge after being framed for the death of his brother in a street race with British car-upgrade entrepreneur (Dominic Cooper). With a spunky car dealer (Imogen Poots) by his side, he hits the road on a cross-country trip to find his nemesis, outracing cops and generic baddies along the way.
The casting of Paul turns out to be pretty effective; fans of Breaking Bad have only the memories of Jessie Pinkman to go on, since his character remains such an ill-defined cipher, which turns out to be kind of ingenious. Meanwhile, Poots (Poots!) overcompensates for a nothing role with overly winsome spunk, and the less said about Michael Keaton as the radio DJ providing a zany running commentary, the better. Still, Need For Speed delivers the goods, and the whole thing has a likeably goofy, uncynical vibe that’s pretty refreshing; it exceeds rock bottom expectations, becoming something destined to be fondly half-watched and half-remembered on Friday nights for years to come.
Need For Speed is in cinemas now.