The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Need For Speed

There has never been a really good movie based on a videogame. Never. A few have been mildly entertaining (the original Tomb Raider comes to mind), but there is not one single example anyone can point to and unequivocally say, That was a really great film. And, in fact, most videogame movies have been downright terrible: Wing Commander, DOA: Dead or Alive, Doom, Silent Hill, Street Fighter, Max Payne, anything directed by Uwe Boll. Keeping this fact in mind will drive the point home when I say that Need For Speed is one of the worst of all videogame movies. It's that bad. Monumentally bad.

Aaron Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a street racer who accepts a tenuous offer to soup up a car for a longtime rival named Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Afterward, they compete in a race where Dino nudges the car of Tobey's friend, causing a fatal accident. He escapes the scene, leaving Tobey to get two years in jail for illegal racing. Upon release, Tobey wants to get revenge and clear his name. The only way to do this is to beat Dino in a super-secret, invitation-only race. (It doesn't make sense to me, either.) He gets a hot rod from a well-connected British girl named Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), and together they drive from New York to California, hoping to be invited to the race. Dino gets wind of their plan and puts a bounty on Tobey's head.

Need For Speed is every bit as stupid as that plot description sounds. The basic problem here is that the videogame series on which the movie is based has no characters or plot, meaning that those things had to be manufactured out of thin air. What writer George Gatins comes up with is often utterly nonsensical. On one hand, you've got a generic antihero and an equally generic revenge plot. On the other, the film delivers a series of scenes that defy all logic. For instance, when Tobey needs the help of an old associate to prepare for the race, the guy, who now works in an office, responds by stripping off all his clothes and quitting. Then there's the mystery race itself. Michael Keaton plays Monarch, the racing guru who organizes it. He sits in a room by himself throughout the movie, broadcasting to an unknown audience. When the race actually begins, he's somehow watching it, yet the other characters, who are listening to his broadcast, are only watching an online graph showing the placement of the racers. How is this race actually working and, more importantly, who cares about it other than those directly involved? Perhaps the most baffling thing of all is that the complicated legal and personal problems depicted actually are resolved by a simple race. I haven't even mentioned Tobey's other friend, Benny (Scott Mescudi), who can inexplicably commandeer any sort of aircraft at a moment's notice.

We're asked to swallow all of that. Worse, Need For Speed has an overly-earnest tone, as though it expects us to take all this nonsense seriously. The movie thinks we'll actually care whether Dino gets busted, or whether Tobey and Julia will fall in love. When the characters are so underdeveloped and the plot so utterly disregards coherence and reason, caring really is not an option.

Even the racing scenes are dull. Director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) brings no new style to them, and at times the editing is so choppy that you can't really even follow them. The Fast & Furious series looks like Bullitt in comparison. Most of the racing sequences are designed to be reminiscent of the videogame's setting and style. That's probably natural, yet it's hard to deny that staying home and playing the game would be a lot more fun and exciting.

Need For Speed gets nothing even remotely right. Not the characterization, not the story, not the dialogue, not the action, not even the sense of mindless fun a videogame offers. It is a massive pile of dreck.

( out of four)

Need For Speed is rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language. The running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.

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