Review: Need for Speed (2014)

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Director: Scott Waugh
Screenwriter: George Gatins & John Gatins
Based on the video game series Need for Speed
Cast: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton, Rami Malek, Scott Mescudi, Dakota Johnson & Ramón Rodríguez
Runtime: 130 min // Certificate: 12a

Right, well it’s atrocious – of course it is – but it’s a live-action film based on a video game so what the fuck did you expect? In fairness to it, it’s nowhere near as piss-poor awful as Silent Hill, Mortal Kombat or their ilk so I guess that’s got to count for something. Don’t get me wrong, it’s obviously terribly depressing to see a fresh talent like Aaron Paul starring in brainless trash like this, and I very much doubt that the irony of a film called Need for Speed clocking in at over two hours will be lost on anyone unfortunate enough to have to sit through it, yet for some baffling reason I didn’t hate this anywhere near as much as I thought I would…

Based on a video game series that didn’t even have a plot until sometime last decade, Need for Speed is like a downmarket version of The Fast & the Furious, albeit one that is solely interested in having fun. For just over two hours it beats along, offensively, idiotically and without charm, grace or character, in a style similar to that of the games from which it borrows its, ahem, “story”. It pumps from one ridiculous action / chase / race (delete as appropriate) sequence to the next, with not one single fuck given for plot, characterisation or realism. Yet such is its refusal to pander to the audience’s unreasonable desire for decent, coherent storytelling, Need for Speed ends up being, in its own ludicrous way, strangely entertaining.

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The plot is so predictably pedestrian that one has to wonder whether or not the writers were aiming to create a parody, though that is all part of the film’s peculiar appeal. Tobey (Paul) is a street racer who owns a garage where he works with his mates Pete (played by Harrison Gilbertson), Benny (Mescudi, aka. Kid Cudi) and Finn (Malek). His arch-rival, Dino Brewster (Cooper), turns up with a business proposal, which then turns into a dick-measuring competition that comes to a head with a race that results in the inexplicably fiery death of poor Pete. Dino claims to have never been a part of the race (a fact the authorities seem to just take at face value, despite witness evidence to the contrary…) so Tobey goes down for two years for his “involvement” in Pete’s death. On his release he seeks revenge in the only way he knows how; by beating Dino in a secret, prestigious race, run by a lunatic-cum-internet personality called “Monarch” (Keaton). Yeah. I know… just go with it, alright?

Now, I mean, it’s horrible; it’s childish, pathetic and utterly stupid, no question about it. The plot doesn’t make sense, the characters are all hateful and I normally find high-speed racing mind-numbingly boring. Nevertheless, for two-hours I was mostly entertained by Need for Speed and I’m not sure why. Aaron Paul isn’t exactly a powerful and engaging screen presence – at least not here – Dominic Cooper is the worst actor known to man (with the exception of Scott Mescudi, who also stars in this film unfortunately…) and Imogen Poots, who plays the film’s one-dimensional, “sassy” woman / love-interest, is immensely irritating. The script is laughably bad, not to mention offensive, while the plot is cheap, banal and deplorably lazy. Yet despite all of this, it still sort of works.

I mean for Christ’s sake, I went to a screening packed with the type of cretinous scumbags who take the effort to actually turn their phones back on just to participate in Cinime… that’s the target audience here guys! Now, I’m well aware that I come across like a snooty bastard who thinks he’s “too good” to enjoy Need for Speed, though that’s not the point, nor the intention; no, the point is that I expected to loathe this film but didn’t. It’s not good, not by any stretch of the imagination, but if you just switch off your brain and embrace the chaos, it can be a fun experience. The ridiculousness of the plot helps, as does the fact that the race / chase sequences are genuinely impressive, but I think what really makes it all work is the unintentional humour that drives the entire enterprise.

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Let me give you an example; the rivalry between Tobey and Dino is positively dripping in latent homoerotic tension. No, I’m serious… Like, at one point, when Tobey gets all up in Dino’s grill ‘n’ shit, I thought they were about to tear each other’s clothes off and start shagging in the middle of the bar. Now, forgive me if I’m wrong but I’m not entirely convinced that this was the filmmakers’ intention. I’m not sure if it was a combination of bad acting, bad writing or both but their rivalry seemed to be a cover for some intense sexual repression. Furthermore, I’m sure Pete was in love with Tobey too – after all, he practically lionised him before, y’know, burning to death – and I reckon that’s why Dino killed him off; to rid himself of the competition for Tobey’s affections. Heck, maybe this sneaky “gay agenda” is why I ended up liking Need for Speed a lot more than I thought I would!

But I digress. I’m just not sure what I think anymore. This film has all but made me question every opinion I’ve ever held. I’m frankly too stunned to even carry on writing. If you like this type of film, you’ll like Need for Speed. If, like me, you hate this type of film… well, maybe give it a go anyway. I mean it’s terrible. It’s awful; it’s a hateful, stupid film which doesn’t deserve any money from any of you! But, erm, well… I sort of like it.

Ah fuck it, I need to lie down. Damn you Aaron Paul, damn you Scott Waugh and damn you Need for Speed. Blargh!

★★½

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