Disney’s video-game-based racing movie coasts on other films’ fumes
Need For Speed
Starring Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper & Imogene Poots
Directed by Scott Waugh
PG-13, 132 min.
“This ain’t just about racing,” says one of the characters in Need For Speed in a conversation that scrapes momentarily up against something other than what the rest of the movie is all about.
OK, if want to be picky, you might also say it’s about love, rivalry and retribution, and the Cinderella story of a young mechanic, Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul of TV’s Breaking Bad), out to save his family business and clear his name.
But let’s cut the crap—it’s really about racing. It’s the movie version of a popular video-game about fast cars and the adrenaline junkies who push them beyond limits any sane person would consider normal.
There’s a suped-up, 900-hp 2015 Mustang GT, a Lamborghini, a McLaren and several other exotic pieces of world-class automotive muscle. There are also airplanes, helicopters, goons with guns, and things going on road, off road, into the air, and in one memorable scene, over the side of a deliriously high desert cliff.
If all that gets your saliva glands glistening, well, this big, grinding gear-fest is for made for you. The folks at Disney are hoping you won’t notice that this low-star-wattage clone of the wildly successful Fast & Furious franchise is mostly running on empty, coasting on fumes from other, better movies.
And Disney surely must be turning a big blind mouse-eye to the fact that everything in it glorifies an illegal, dangerous activity, and that even its “good guys” show no regard for the lives of the innocent bystanders they imperil, whether they’re plowing around a poky school bus full of kids or smashing into a homeless man’s shopping cart as he pushes it across a city street—then laughing about it.
The only time you see anyone even buckle up a seat belt, it’s also also used as a punchline. Safety, yeah—ain’t it a hoot?
Michael Keaton plays the manic promoter of an invitation-only, secret-location race to which only the best drivers get invited. Tobey’s foil is a stinking rich piece of car-collecting Euro-trash (Dominiqic Cooper). There’s a token female (Imogene Poots), who gives her subplot a whiff of Smokey and the Bandit.
In fact, director Scott Waugh tips his hat several times to car movies of the ’70s, and viewers who are inclined can pass the time between vroom-vrooms connecting the tire tracks to American Graffiti, Bullet, Two Lane Blacktop, Duel and other iconic flicks about the rubber hitting the road.
The plot is about as thin as the wisp of air between vehicles swishing past each other on a narrow highway, and the actors say empty-headed things like “I’m never gonna stop,” “You are out of your mind—and I love it!” and “We’ll settle this behind the wheel.”
But blah, blah, blah. People who go to see this movie are going to go for the cars, the rush, the roar, and the fact that this is real metal, real roads and real stunts, with a minimum of added special effects.
Anyone who doesn’t have quite the same compelling “need for speed” can just putter along in a slower, safer, saner lane—and pray that you don’t get flattened by some revved-up grease monkeys like the ones in this movie.
—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine