I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Need For Speed

tn_needforspeedNEED FOR SPEED is based on a video game I guess, but it seems like a THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS sequel from an alternate timeline where TOKYO DRIFT never happened, or a weird idea for a gritty reboot of the SPEED RACER licensed trademark franchise property.

It’s another story that takes place among characters who think of nothing but car racing. There are signs of relationships in their pasts and futures, but women seem to be only a side interest for both the hero and the villain. The hero barely hides his sadness that his ex-girlfriend is with the villain now, yet we barely see her with her new man, she shows no sign of affection toward him and it’s unclear, to me at least, whether her diamond ring means they’re married or engaged. And it doesn’t seem like it really matters anyway because… cars.

The movie revolves around the small town of Mt. Kisco, New York. That’s a real town (or village) with a population of 11,000. It’s the home town of Michael Eisner and Bruce Jenner, and according to the movie they also have such a thriving street racing scene that one driver has gone on to fame and fortune as an Indy 500 racer and international automotive mogul, and among the current racers are a guy just a few years younger who’s legendary around the world, and several others almost as good as him.

mp_needforspeedPops has recently passed away, leaving his best-in-the-world custom race car garage to Speed (Aaron Paul), but he’s behind on the loans. Spritle and Chim Chim have probly gone off to college or something so now his family is a handful of goofball buddies who he treats as his brothers. There’s a couple mechanics (one always chews a toothpick, even at funerals), a friend named Benny (I had no idea this was that rapper you hear about, Kid Cudi) who flies borrowed/stolen Cessnas, news choppers and Apaches over him to give him the lay of the land during races, and there’s fresh-faced Pete (the double-last-named Harrison Gilbertson), little brother of his ex-girlfriend, who is always smiling and could not be more clearly destined to die tragically in a race creating motivation for revenge, triumph, etc.

Like a FAST & FURIOUS, the crew are depicted as having a special bond and code of honor. When Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), the bigshot asshole who left town, offers their on-the-verge-of-going-out-of-business garage a gig that will net them $500 grand, the crew all try to talk Speed into turning it down, because Dino’s an asshole. I like these guys. He doesn’t listen to them, though.

Then there’s the unwritten rule that if somebody flips his car and catches on fire during an illegal race you should turn around and try to help, not keep going and win the race. Pete dies from Dino bumping him during a dangerous race and causing him to flip, but what really offends Speed is that Dino didn’t go back for him. I mean, the poor kid flipped like 100 times, was on fire, fell off a bridge into water and blew up, so it would not have helped in any way, but you gotta make the gesture, you know? Worse, Dino lies to the cops about the whole thing and Speed goes to prison for 2 years for supposedly stealing the car Dino loaned him for the race.

I wonder if Sebulba felt this way about Anakin leaving him in a fiery wreck during the Boonta Eve classic. That’s from Star Wars.

By the way, even without this being in a Paul Walker series it was hard for his death not to come to mind when so many cars flip and burn. I know that sting will fade away just like anything, but it makes me wonder how FAST 7 will navigate the line between not being upsetting and delivering on traditional fast and furiousness. You want to be tasteful but you also want to honor the flavor of the series that he spent so much of his career developing. (For me real life also intruded in the fantasy world the first time Benny dove a newscopter down to street level. One of those crashed and blew up near where I live a week or two ago.)

When Speed gets out his system of revenge involves betting and racing. He convinces the rich guy who owns the $2.7 million world’s fastest Mustang (which he and the boys fixed up themselves) to loan it to him. Also included in the loan is the rich guy’s assistant Julia (Imogen Poots), adorable little Brit who looks like a Disney caricature but (gasp) knows alot about cars. Now they just have to drive across the country really fast and try to get entered into a legendary underground race run by the mysterious race expert The Monarch (Michael Keaton in a part that is literally filmed entirely in one radio studio, sometimes on a webcam) and then win the race and also he might figure out a way to prove that Cooper was there the day Pete died.

Since he’s breaking parole the police are after him, and also in one part some guys in trucks come after him because of a bounty, and also they’re trying to get The Monarch’s attention with outrageous driving, so there are many excuses for chases and going off jumps and what not. Unlike a FAST & FURIOUS movie there is no high speed backwards driving. Like a FAST & FURIOUS movie there is a part where they have to climb out on fast moving cars and reach across to each other. The funny thing is they don’t do this for some life or death battle, they do it to load gas into the car without slowing down because they’re late for the race.

I feel like the handling of the villain Dino makes very little sense. When he’s interviewed about Speed coming after him he plays dumb and says “Didn’t that guy just get out of prison?” But isn’t it on the public record that “that guy” is in prison relating to the death of Dino’s own brother-in-law (or soon-to-be-brother-in-law, whichever it is) and that he himself was accused and cleared of being involved? Shouldn’t he be expected to follow this case more closely?

Overall the values of the movie are positive. It sides with the guys with money problems who are passionate about what they do and value friendship, and against the rich successful asshole who doesn’t care about those things. But there’s one part early on where they’re racing and a homeless man is pushing a shopping cart full of his belongings out into the street, and Speed crashes into it. The homeless guy is outraged and yells “Hey, that’s my house!” Benny, who’s above in the plane and is supposed to be on the lookout for bystanders like that, jokes about it and laughs. It’s not a big deal, you see that all the time in movies, but I wonder what it is that makes them think of some destitute mentally ill person as the one who needs to get taken down a notch. “You know what, we should have a fucking homeless guy and his few meager belongings get destroyed and then he gets all upset about it! Ha ha, fuck that guy! Ha ha!” I know they don’t mean it that way, but if you think about it that’s kinda the subtext.

Oh well, maybe it’s not that bad. I didn’t hear any response from the homeless man who was the only other person attending this showing. I should’ve asked him his opinion when I saw him in the restroom afterwards, washing himself in the sink.

The climax is kinda funny SPOILER because, as one would expect, Cooper’s car flips and catches on fire, and Speed decides to be the bigger man, follow his code and turn around to pull him out of the wreckage. But when he does it, all of his friends are watching on their laptops and iPads (from hospitals, brigs or nearby) and yelling “What are you doing?” Like they don’t share this code, can’t even conceive of it. And even he takes an awful long time to turn around. It’s definitely not his first instinct, it’s something that comes to him after a bit, and then he has to think about whether or not to do it, and he only gets there at the last second. One more intense rubbing of his chin and both of them would’ve blown up in the car.

I still like it as an emotional beat, but it’s funny that the movie seems to think he’s Jesus or something for reluctantly doing what we’ve been told since the beginning of the movie is clearly the only thing anyone should ever do unless they’re a scumbag.

NEED FOR SPEED is directed by Scott Waugh, one of the two “Bandito Brothers” who went from stunts and sports documentaries to ACT OF VALOR. Therefore it has tons of real car stunts and few noticeable effects shots. Cinematographer Professional Shane Hurlbut, obviously still suffering from Post-Christian Bale Stress Disorder, doesn’t quite screw the camera down tight enough for my tastes, but he manages to capture alot of good vehicular mayhem, mostly coherent. Surprisingly though this is a 2 hour and 12 minute movie that takes its story and characters pretty seriously. Whether they deserve it or not is another question.

There are definitely a few overlong scenes that coulda used a cut. The obvious example is the long, out-of-place comedy scene about one of his buddies quitting an office job by stripping naked and leaving the building.

It’s kinda cool to see an action vehicle based around Aaron Paul. I’m pretty sure this will be the last one. He seems to have approximately two times the amount of forehead of your usual leading man (wouldn’t that be crazy if he dated Mena Suvari?) and probly wouldn’t be getting roles like this if not for the huge popularity of that show he was on. He does have a good low voice, but he seems more comfortable doing a dumb stoner laugh then trying to talk real serious. But that’s what makes him stand out.

In a world where there are six great FAST AND THE FURIOUS pictures there’s not that much need for NEED FOR SPEED. The FASTs after the first one also have alot of real stunt driving, but do more enjoyably ludicrous things with the cars than this does. The FASTs obviously have that theme of brotherhood and creating a new family with your friends, and they do it better with more likable characters. I know they’re different types of movies, but it’s not like NEED found some radically new twist on this type of material. It’s just a not-as-exciting version.

But it’s not terrible. I somewhat enjoyed watching it. On its own merits it’s okay. As far as movies adapted from Tom Cruise catch phrases it’s probly in the top 5.

acr_needforspeed

 

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 at 10:27 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “Need For Speed”

  1. ….”if (Aaron Paul) dated Mena Suvari?”

    Now imagine if they had kids…

  2. I liked Imogen Poots in this. She has nice chemistry with Aaron Paul.

  3. I dug this one a lot. The story doesn’t make any sense (if someone can explain to me how anyone was expected to make any money off that race, I’d love to hear it) but I like that it’s told with real conviction. You can tell that the filmmakers believed in these characters, their problems, and their world, so all the cliches feel, if not fresh, at least heartfelt. I’m also glad that “heartfelt” didn’t translate to “joyless” the way so many genre movies that aren’t content to be post-modern pastiches end up being these days. It’s not afraid to be colorful and goofy while still taking itself seriously. It’s a well-balanced tone that seems to be a burgeoning trademark of this particular Bandito Brother. He lets his characters tell jokes; he doesn’t turn the characters themselves into jokes. Speaking of which, I thought Aaron Paul gave a really good performance as a guy who’s not nearly as stoic as he likes to present himself, and it gave the film a tension the meandering story might have otherwise lacked. Regardless of what he was trying to accomplish and the bizarre, roundabout manner he was going about accomplishing it, I was fully on his side because his pain was so raw and close to the surface. He’s an unconventional choice for the role, but I think he nailed it. And I agree with Felix, he had great chemistry with Imogen Poots. I believed in their relationship, as pre-packaged as it was, and that gave the film a strong, sweet center.

    I don’t know, it might be the best video game movie ever, Non-Ironic Division.

  4. That angle on the poster was clearly chosen for forehead-minimisation purposes.

  5. I liked this one alright, but I definitely agree that it’s unnecessary in a world where the Fast & Furious movies exist. Really funny review, though.

  6. NEED FOR SPEED (which I’ve not seen) is part of Hollywood’s continue belief that video game movies are the next comic book movies. Which means we’ll get through more clunkers probably (nevermind the ones we already have like RESIDENT EVIL series) before some guy out there makes one that pleases both gamers and critics/general audiences.

    All I know about NFS is that its done absurd business in China, like much much more than it did in America. Maybe there’s more Mr. Majestyks over there than there are here?

    Yup, China is gonna take over the world for sure.

  7. Dikembe Mutombo

    April 8th, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    Yeah, it’s a hard movie to hate because of its sincerity and good naturedness (though I love where you point out how the movie seems to contradict itself there at points). At the same time it’s a hard movie to love because it’s not very involving and the comic relief is so stale. At first I was pretty much on board with the cast of supporting goofballs even though they were all unfunny, but by the end I kind of hated Kid Cudi’s guy (I didn’t know that was him either). THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS looks like a really classy and subdued drama in comparison to this.

    When Paul started Breaking Bad he looked so young and fresh, but now he looks his age and then some. It made the romance with the teenage-looking Poots a little weird for me, but at the same time there’s a sweetness to their interactions that I can’t hate on. It didn’t bug me like Wolverine fucking a chick who he clearly had been building a father-daughter type relationship with. Paul is good in this but I feel like he would’ve been better as Dino. I’m also enjoying Michael Keaton’s mini-renaissance lately.

    Also did I miss some dialogue where Paul says he hates Dino for not going back to check on his friend? Because I assumed his motivation was he hates Dino for *murdering* his friend.

  8. RRA— China may not take over the world, but damn skippy they’re gonna take over the U.S.A. at some point.

    The legalization of marijuana (in the states of Washington and Colorado thus far, but more to follow, and that right quickly) only exacerbates the American inclinations toward general lassitude, pursuit of the munchies, a fascination with cartoons and comic books that extends well beyond normal childhood parameters, and the ever-popular obsession with Xbox/Playstation gaming.

    Eventually legalization will go national, and the majority of the adult population in America will mark that day with a collective wake-and-bake, the likes of which this planet has never seen.

    And that’s precisely when those pesky Chinese will launch the invasion. Timing truly IS everything. Perhaps Aaron Paul will turn up in a bangin’ muscle car to save us all, but I rather doubt it.

  9. Dikembe Mutombo

    April 8th, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    I do really like the scene where Paul & Poots stop at a gas station in the southwest and get into hijinks with a state trooper. It’s kind of a teen movie chase scene except with a craggy high forehead ex-con instead of a teen. I wish maybe the movie used the road trip stuff to get into the characters better.

  10. There will be a faster, more furious movie this year. (Actually, it was already THE RAID 2.)

  11. Now check him out as a 20-year old Price Is Right contestant!

  12. Dumb quotes. That was meant as a reply do DM’s comment about how fresh-faced he looked when BB started. Look at him, he’s SUPER EXCITED!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bf7YF8DAwjk

    I agree with Vern though, can’t see him getting more action vehicles after this. My favorite non-BB work of his was in SMASHED, a low-key drama about Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s struggle with alcoholism. I hope he gets more parts like that.

  13. Paul probably won’t headline another big-budget action picture anytime soon (though I can see him doing prominent second- or third-banana roles in large-scale productions) but he can probably work the indie neo-noir circuit for the rest of his career if he so chooses.

  14. Shoot McKay/* */

    April 9th, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Jesse Pinkman as an action hero? I think I spend my money on Neeson and NON STOP instead, thank you very much.

  15. Oh and [email protected] was my bad…

  16. “RRA— China may not take over the world, but damn skippy they’re gonna take over the U.S.A. at some point.”

    I wish it was the Japanese like the 80’s thought it would be instead. seriously. it irritates the shit out of me that if an Asian country has to have the US by the balls it’s China instead of Japan, it’s just not fair

  17. Knox Harrington

    April 10th, 2014 at 5:40 am

    I had such a great time with this. Aaron Paul absolutely carried the film for me. Every time his character had to contain his Hulk-like rage, I was right there with him.

    On top of that, the car chases were fucking stunning. I think car nuts might even enjoy this more than the Fast and Furious movies. Obviously this can’t compete with Fast 5 and Furious 6, but where those films have become more action focused, Need For Speed is all about the racing. Some of those angles and tracking shots were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Car porn of the highest quality.

    I hope we get some sequels.

  18. Box Office Mojo says this has earned $184,843,316 so far. Think it’ll get a sequel?

  19. Caught NEESON ON A PLANE last night. It was a solid post-9/11 thriller. When I walked home I started thinking about SCHINDLERS LIST for some reason. Both movies stars Neeson as someone trying to save a bunch of exposed people from certain death. And they both features lists of some sorts. But where Neeson uses the list to save people, in this he uses (the passenger list) to find out who fucked with his plane. And although he IS trying to save them, there are some Patriot Act shit going on. Interrogating them, threaten the passengers at gunpoint, going through their personal stuff (phones, emeil) , violating their integrity, not to mention stepping on some toes as he switches aisles. At one point someone remarks that it is some big brother society bullshit going on. Has the liberator turned to an oppressor? Has the hero finally turned a villain?

    There are some exciting and creepy post-9/11 shit that is being dealt with. Cops with guns on planes (Air Marshalls) and stuff like that I had no idea about.

    Coming from the same director who did UNKNOWN also starring Neeson, this comes across as a slightly better thriller without the low rent Hitchcockian aspects and a more straight forward action/thriller vibe that works. Too bad the few fights and action there is has an unforgivable amount of shakiness.

  20. Shoot – Eh I thought both UNKNOWN and NON-STOP were decent Hitchcockian paranoid fantasies. I mean NS, its got the classic regular-guy-suddenly-trapped-in-dire-situation-and-also-framed-for-it scenario. I guess one thing NS has over UNKNOWN is that NS doesn’t fall apart as quickly afterwards in retrospect like UNKNOWN did for me.

  21. I liked LIAM NEESON IS TAKEN OFF a lot better than UNKNOWN. Both of them fall apart once the mystery is solved, but I figured out UNKNOWN in the first ten minutes, while TAKEN OFF had enough red herrings (I had like 30 viable theories by the hour mark) to keep me guessing the whole time. And it’s just fun to see 6′ 5″ Neeson just manhandling dudes in confined spaces.

  22. I kinda liked UNKNOWN despite the plot because SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like if Brian Mills lost his CIA preventor super skills in the beginning and had to be a regular guy for the remainder of the movie an dthen in the final regain them and have a fistfight with his evil twin:

    “You don´t remember anything,do you?

    To which Neeson replies:

    “I haven´t forgotten how to kill you,asshole!”

    To me that worked, even though the film is bland in most ways.

    I think NEESON ON A PLANE had some of the same stuff I got out of it,even though it´s probably elements that I put together based on Neesons previous works, rather than the films as seperate movies.

  23. Imogen Poots is quite a unique choice for a female lead. But she just works for some reason.

    Anyone else feel the same way?

  24. I agree. Poots was very appealing in a role that very easily could have been the Jar Jar of the movie.

    I just watched this again and liked it even more the second time, especially after watching the documentaries on the Blu-ray. The director comes from a family of famous stuntmen who all grew up best friends with another family of famous stuntmen, who all worked on the movie, so you can really see the labor of love that this film was for everybody. There’s a a generosity of spirit to this movie that I think comes from it being made by friends and family who all share a common love of making expensive cars flip over seventeen times. It reminds me a little of HOOPER, in that it’s mostly a big dumb stunt spectacular but it’s also a personal statement from the heart of the kinds of guys who have made big dumb stunt spectaculars their life’s work. It loves the hardware, but it also loves and understands the people inside it. Ironic that a film based on a video game is the one in recent years to most exalt the tactile pleasures of practical stunt work and the people who perform it.

    I watched it with my three-year-old nephew, who didn’t give a crap about the plot but loved the movie anyway because it’s basically two straight hours of race cars going zoom. So it works on a couple levels.

  25. It lacks the F&F’s series sense of fun and exaggerated “We Are Family, Bros” though.

    Still i wonder if there’s room for 2 Racing Seriess for the mainstream. NEED FOR sPEED being the “realistic” alternative.

  26. I like to think that NEED FOR SPEED takes place elsewhere in the Fastandfuriverse. Dom and Co. have been around for a while so they’re having the craziest adventures, while young bucks like the Needforspeedsters are just getting started so their adventures are still small time. I also think the theme of family is definitely there (I particularly like how willing these guys are to go to jail for each other) but we haven’t had seven movies to get to know them so it doesn’t quite have the weight of the other series.

  27. It did okay in overall worldwide. $203.3 million.

    No news on a sequel though so far.

  28. Watched this the other night with a lady friend, who summed up her impression after the first ten minutes – It’s about big boys, small cocks, and Justin Bieber lookalikes.

    I had to laugh.

  29. I just caught this on pay TV and am I the only one who was kinda offended on a moral

  30. WTF? I didn’t even push a button or something!

    Let’s try this again. Am I the only one who was kinda offended on a moralic level? It doesn’t happen to me very often. The only two instances I can remember was my first viewing of BAD BOYS 2 and during PROJECT X. But I downright hated how the heroesin this movie kept endangering innocents. Not just the homeless guy in the beginning, whose near death and loss of everything he owns gets laughed off, but they also cause during the movie’s runtime way too many random car crashes. Often we even see those from the inside of the innocent bydrivers’ cars and in at least one instance we hear them scream.

    As much as I love the F&F series, they treat it more cartoony or if some causes serious damage and potential (or definitive) death, it’s usually the bad guys.

    I don’t know. That shit really got me worried. Imogen Poots has a cute nose, though. Gotta have to say this.

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