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New Release Review - Need For Speed

Big screen adaptation of the popular video game.
Directed by: Scott Waugh
Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi, Imogen Poots, Dakota Johnson, Michael Keaton




After the death of his father, street-racing mechanic Tobey Marshall (Paul) takes over the family garage, but also its financially draining mortgage. Desperate for cash, Tobey reluctantly agrees to take part in an illegal street race with arrogant high end car dealer Dino Brewster (Cooper). Tobey's friend Pete, also taking part in the race, is killed when Dino runs him off the road, subsequently framing Tobey for manslaughter as a result. When Tobey is released on parole two years later, he sets off on a cross country journey to take part in a lucrative underground race and clear his name in the process.
When the invite for Need For Speed appeared in my inbox I was far from enthused. A Fast & Furious cash-in based on a video game sounded like my idea of hell. As it turns out, Scott Waugh's movie is a lot better than its premise might suggest.
Far from a cynical rip-off of the F&F franchise, Need For Speed is a reaction to it. We've become numb to Hollywood movies that promise spectacle but deliver tedium. Three films in, Michael Bay's Transformers series has barely contained anything in the way of actual transforming, while the F&F films have more in common with R&B music videos than high octane road movies. If nothing else, Need For Speed fulfills its pledge of vehicular mayhem.
Where F&F had dodgy CG set-pieces, Need For Speed has genuine practical stunt driving. Where F&F blasted us with a soundtrack of the latest rap tunes, Need For Speed has an understated score, allowing the growl of the engines to fill the auditorium's speakers. Where F&F paid scant regard to the collateral damage of its protagonists' high speed antics, Need For Speed has a moral center and a recognition of the consequences of its characters' irresponsible actions.
Most importantly, Need For Speed is made by a director who clearly loves car movies. The film's lineage is acknowledged explicitly throughout. Bullitt plays on a drive-in screen, Keaton's monarch is a modern tech mashup of American Graffiti's Wolfman Jack and Vanishing Point's Super Soul, and Poots' "right-seater" immediately recalls her fellow English blonde, Susan George, of Dirty Mary Crazy Larry.
The plot is a mess and the dialogue is atrocious though, thankfully, there's not much of the latter. There were several elements I couldn't fully grasp, particularly the character played by Johnson, a plot thread that seems completely superfluous in a movie that's a good half hour too long. With no explanation, a buddy of Tobey's manages to get his hands on a multitude of aircraft, from a Cessna to an Apache helicopter, as though he were the A-Team's Murdoch.
But you're not going into a film like this in hopes of a labyrinthine plot and sophisticated characterization. No, you want to see stuntmen put their lives on the line as they perform gravity defying stunts with cars you couldn't afford in your wildest dreams. And that's exactly what stuntman turned director Waugh gives us. There are some truly breath-taking shots captured here with cameras strapped to cars flying through the air, and the 3D refreshingly acknowledges its gimmick status, throwing every car part imaginable at us. It's ironic that now, in the digital era, Waugh and his cinematographer Shane Hurlbut can incorporate the new generation of disposable hi-def cameras into their old school stuntwork in ways sluggish film cameras never could.
Its story taking place from sea to shining sea, Need For Speed makes great use of America's most stunning scenery. The US has its Sunday best on here, the red hills of Monument Valley and the forests of Northern California captured in beautiful fashion by Hurlbut.
There's little in the way of character or story to grasp onto and it's far too long, but Need For Speed is a refreshingly innocent throwback to a lost era of analog action. See it at your local drive-in.
6/10


Eric Hillis

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