Need for Speed

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As your grandkids may tell you, “Need for Speed” is the most successful racing videogame series of all time. The series launched in 1994, releasing 22 games with increasingly sophisticated advancements in gaming technology to the present date and selling more than 150 million copies. So, it was only a matter of time before someone attempted to make a motion picture based on the gamer’s favorites. Now, Disney and Dreamworks have done that, with the newly released, “Need for Speed”, starring Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the upcoming Warcraft, also based on a videogame), and Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment).

Paul is Tobey Marshall, a street racer who has been framed and served time for killing of his friend during an illegal race. The real killer is an old enemy, ex NASCAR driver Dino Brewster (Cooper), who has convinced the cash-strapped Marshall to fix up a classic car for a profit share.

When Marshall gets out of prison, he vows revenge against Brewster by taking part in a cross-country race organized by a mystery patron/podcaster (a bizarre turn by Michael Keaton). Tobey is accompanied by Julia (Imogen Poots), a girl who brokered the sale of the car Tobey and Dino worked on. The winner takes possession of all the remaining cars in the race.

Still with me?

While video games generally have some sort of vague storyline, the point of a game is about player action, not plot, and the story behind “Need for Speed” is so flimsy, it appears that writer George Gatins jotted it down on the back of a cocktail napkin.

The cars, on the other hand are spectacular, from the movie’s “star” a Shelby GT500 , McLaren P1, Koenigsegg Agera R, Spania GTA, not to mention the more than exclusive Lamborghini Sesto Elemento. Impressed with my vast knowledge of cars? Don’t be. I drive a P.T. Cruiser. With the exception of the Lamborghini, I probably wouldn’t recognize one of those cars on the road. Suffice it to say, that a large number of very expensive, very beautiful cars appeared to have been demolished with callous disregard in the making of the movie.  Sports car enthusiasts, however, will be relieved to learn that no actual, expensive cars were destroyed in the making of the film – merely fiberglass knock offs.

Paul, who received two Emmys for “Breaking Bad” is badly miscast in the role of the avenging blue collar mechanic, a smarter choice might have been Chris Pine or Ryan Gosling. Imogene Poots manages to rise above the script, and deserves being cast in a far better role.

“Need for Speed” does have something essential going for it which may help it out at the box office: great, but highly implausible stunts. Am I the only one who finds it hard to believe that a helicopter could lift a 2 ton car, carry it a great distance and gently set it down in working order?

“Speed” attempts to recreate the adrenalin fused graphic games in a real-world setting, but the producers and director Scott Waugh seem to have forgotten that the appeal of the games is that they offer gamers a simulation of driving hot, classic sports and muscle cars at breakneck speeds with no chance of getting hurt, unless they trip over their game consoles. No matter how action packed, movies are a passive entertainment, which should frustrate serious gamers to no end.

The Bottom Line: Although visually arresting, and containing powerful special effects, “Need for Speed” offers characters with no regard for human life or property. If you can, try to get the kids to watch a DVD of “Bullitt” starring Steve McQueen. They’ll thank you later.

PG-13, 2 hr. 10 min., Rated PG-13

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