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Article by Teddy Durgin

Need for Speed Never Really Gets in Gear

A movie titled "Need for Speed" that's based on a video game should never be two hours and 10 minutes long, and it should never, EVER feel slow. But that is the most remarkable feat director Scott Waugh and his team pull off here. This is a drawn-out affair that jolts to life every once in a while with its car hijinks. But what could have been a deliriously fun exercise in road movie mayhem is actually a largely joyless flat tire of a movie. I won't pull out too many of the car cliches here. And I won't compare this too much to the far superior "Fast and the Furious" franchise. Prior to Paul Walker's untimely demise late last year, you could watch those movies - especially the last two in the series - and thrill to their unfiltered, no-holds-barred speed junkie thrills. We were also able to watch a diverse cast gel and become quite the on-screen family. As "Need for Speed" played out, I actually kept rooting for the flick to become less reminiscent of the Vin Diesel vehicles and more like the Burt Reynolds classics "Smokey and the Bandit" and "The Cannonball Run." The plot elements are there. After Aaron Paul's mechanic/street racer Tobey Marshall is framed by evil Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) for his friend's murder in an unsanctioned car race, Tobey goes to jail. When he gets out, he learns of a cross-country race that coincides nicely with his thirst for revenge against Dino. His companion on this journey is attractive automobile broker Julia (Imogen Poots). That's about 90 minutes of story there that, on screen, is stretched out and taken way too seriously. Paul was great on "Breaking Bad." But here he's not very well directed and unsure of whether he is playing an archetype or a flesh-and-blood character. Left to his own devices, he falls back on a series of tough looks and adopts a gravelly voice that would have Christian Bale reaching for a lozenge. On the plus side, I did appreciate that a lot of the car stunts were actual car stunts and not computer-generated trickery. Again, I cut my teeth on ol' Burt Reynolds movies and other car-race junk of the 1970s and '80s, so I don't mind a more grounded, less cartoon-y spectacle. Gimme such movies as "Road Warrior" and I'll give you a happy boy. There is indeed a certain level of craftsmanship here that I appreciate. And real-life car junkie Michael Keaton is in the pic, too, as an enigmatic Internet racing guru named Monarch, who organizes the DeLeon race. Unfortunately, he's stuck for pretty much the whole film in a roomful of monitors essentially narrating the thrills, spills and car-nage. But I don't know. Whereas last week, I could shrug off my problems with "300: Rise of an Empire" and recommend paying to see the film based on one performance and one scene in particular, nothing really stands out like that here. And certainly no one drives out of an exploding airplane or drags a bank vault behind two race cars on the streets of Rio. "Need for Speed" just didn't rev my engine.

"Need for Speed" is rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, language and some nudity.

 

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