I’m a child of the 60’s, and to me as a young boy the films of the 60’s and 70’s that really spoke to me were those involving cars doing dangerous things: Steve McQueen in ‘Bullitt’ tearing round the streets of San Francisco; the Love Bug; the Monte Carlo race in ‘Grand Prix’; Bond’s Lotus Esprit tearing up the roads in Sardinia and – best of all – the Mini Coopers of the original ‘Italian Job’, which I must have dragged my poor mother to see dozens of times. Real cars, real stunt drivers with real danger involved. These were the days before CGI, where driving scenes involving dodgy green screens were blindingly obvious. So, whilst I’m all ‘grown up now’ (at least in body!) ‘Need For Speed’ still stirs memories of those original thrills, where the engines roared and the sumps sparked on the tarmac.
Let’s be clear – this is a loud, bone-headed, popcorn muncher of a film. It is as obvious in terms of plot direction as you could possibly imagine. Aside from the occasional nice side-step, you just know as you meet the protagonists – the grizzled rivals, the young turk under the hero’s wing, the love rival, etc. – exactly where the film will go, and it doesn’t disappoint. It is no real surprise to find that director Scott Waugh was previously a stuntman on a plethora of films, including the Italian Job remake.
The plot, as it is, involves rivals in the dangerous and illegal world of street racing. A tragedy during one such street race puts our hero Tobey Marshall (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) into the clink for a couple of years. Once released, he promptly breaks parole to cross the country to get to California in time for a head-to-head revenge rematch against his wealthy and successful rival Dino Brewster (Mamma Mia’s Dominic Cooper).
This Californian race along the coastline is organised by the ex-racing guru and video blog broadcaster Monarch, played with over-the-top glee by Michael Keaton. (In fact, he is so extrovert that he could be giving a great impression of Jack Nicholson at his Oscar-ceremony best!) Winner of the six-car race gets to keep all the cars: I’m not sure what the second-hand price of scrap carbon fibre is, but that probably isn’t much of an incentive!
Marshall is aided by the very English Jules Maddon (Imogen Poots), adding a bit of girl-power driving to the rather testosterone-heavy atmosphere.
Given less to do, Dakota Johnson – shortly to star in ’50 Shades of Grey’ – plays the love rival of Marshall and Brewster. Scott Mescudi adds comic touches as the eye in the sky for the racers (stay for the end credits to see his amusing ‘Twerkocise’ inmate session) and the strikingly different Rami Malek (memorable in ’The Pacific’) is excellent as one of Marshall’s support crew.
Where are the problems with this film? Well, a good chunk of the dialogue is inaudible, with many of the leads – notably Aaron Paul – mumbling their lines. And in terms of glorifying young people driving too fast in their cars, this film is not exactly going to help.
But none of that really matters: the cars and stunt drivers are the stars of this film, and there is a nice doff of the cap to ‘Bullitt’ near the start of the film that recognises the rich heritage being renewed here. With the CGI switch turned to “off” and a plethora of real life stunts on show, this is an entertaining roller-coaster of a film, all set to a thumping and catchy soundtrack by Nathan Furst.
Fad Rating: FFFf.