Why can’t they ever make a good video game movie?
From the moment that EA logo pops up on the screen, I had one of those, “Oh shit” moments. I mean, video game movies have never been good. They just haven’t. And like idiots, we continue to adapt them to the screen. Like even bigger idiots, the video games that have the most potential to be adapted to movies aren’t even considered and we wind up with Need for Speed. Need for Speed is one of the quintessential racing video games out there. The only thing it really lacks is a coherent plot. As far as that is concerned, the Most Wanted and Carbon titles of the franchise have come the closest in terms of an actual story, none of which are specifically adapted here. This situation is pretty much a movie with a racing backdrop with the NFS title slapped on it. There is simply not enough in this film to warrant the title. Goddamn it all.
So Need for Speed is very simple in terms of plot. A Mt. Kisco racer is framed for criminal manslaughter during a race and once he gets out, he endeavors to enter himself in an illegal street racing competition in order to get back at the man who ruined him. The plot, to put it mildly, is a bit of a mess. We have our main character, who starts out in New York, trying to get to California in under two days in order to get to the competition. Along the way, he will get into police chases, and become romantically involved with an exotic car dealer who is somehow snagged along for the ride. The unfortunate thing is that most of the police chases (a staple of NFS games since Hot Pursuit) could have very easily been avoided to the point where it just seemed that the main character went out of his way to aggravate the cops into chasing them. And, when our lead is doing illegal shenanigans in his car, such as burning rubber, driving on the wrong side of the road, or just causing general mayhem, there isn’t a cop to be seen. And as events in the film come into play, the climax is actually rather anti-climactic (odd choice of words, there) in that we can predict from there on out what will happen. And lo and behold, it does! The film also requires you to suspend your disbelief far too many times during its two hour long running time. “Oh, I need a car for the race? Why don’t I just call this guy that I met once two years ago and ask if he can loan his car to me? That’ll work!” That does not happen, movie. That just does not happen.
The cast, is also a disappointment. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman) plays the lead, Toby Marshall, and Paul looks rather lost for most of the movie, as if he’s wondering what the hell he should be doing while on set. The other half, he’s fine, but he fails to make a good impression despite the buildup of his casting. The rest of the cast…..sad to say it, isn’t very good. You have the rapper Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi) in his film debut, and he just sucks. Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark from Captain America) play’s Paul’s rival, and he’s just another cliche villain with no interesting or comprehensible motives. There’s the unfortunately named Imogen Poots who plays Paul’s love interest but she’s so one-dimensional and boring that you really couldn’t care less about the relationship on screen. Michael Keaton has an extended cameo as the founder of the illegal street racing competition, but he just seems miscast for the role as he isn’t manic enough or entirely convincing that he used to race cars as a living. The whole cast is pretty much a big “SMH.”
As far as the racing scenes go, they’re….all right. What is interesting about them is that no CGI (like in the Fast and Furious movies) was used to complement the action, but practical stunts and real locations were utilized. It’s a bold move and the effects do look rather crisp, but the problem is that the races are shot so flat and so predictably that they start to get a little boring by the second race. I mean, if you’re just going to reuse the same camera angle all the time, then what’s the damn point? In fact, this whole movie was basically a giant advertisement for the Shelby Mustang as the camera (and actors) pore over every nut and bolt in the car. They use its GPS (complete with internet), they show the holographic dashboard that utilizes cameras instead of traditional side mirrors, you have everyone quoting specs on it. It felt like the movie was trying to sell this car to me, which was quite the irritant. To a lesser extent, this was also the case for the Swedish-built Koenigsegg Agera R, a hypercar that was featured not as heavily as the Mustang, but heavily enough to warrant a mention here. The racing scenes are pretty much the glue that holds the plot together so if you’re into those, then knock yourself out.
For a little while, I genuinely believed that this movie would actually be good. You can imagine my annoyance at the fact at what should have been an easy sell, turned out to backfire on all cylinders. Sure, the racing is good…for the first ten minutes, but then you’ve got to sift through all of this filler and exposition that just bloats the film beyond a palatable running time. I admire what the director tried to accomplish here but he should have gotten a better script or at least a better editor so that Need for Speed could have been the best video game based movie ever, which still doesn’t make it a good movie, but a step in the right direction for the genre. As it stands, it represents that video game movies can offer some form of entertainment without just being completely bad or unwatchable. If only those damn Halo and Mass Effect movies were ever to go into production, then no one would laugh about the pedigree of video game movies ever again. Seriously, why don’t they just do that?
Final Score: 40/100