Mechanic Tobey Marshall (Paul) is framed for the death of his friend by racer Dino Brewster (Cooper). After two years in the clink, he sets off on a road trip of revenge, bent on besting Dino at De Leon a legendary underground street race.
You can just imagine the pitch that gave rise to Need For Speed. “It’ll be the new Fast & Furious! We’ll base it on a huge gaming IP, throw in some young, affordable actors and pack it with car porn. Win! You think we need a hook? Huh. Say, have you seen Breaking Bad?”
And so Aaron Paul, who delivers what is arguably the best performance in one of television’s most lauded dramas, ends up driving across America in a film that makes Fast 6 look like Battleship Potemkin. It’s not so much that Need For Speed is stupid, which is all but mandatory in this genre, but that stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh fails to work the trick that Diesel et al have down pat: make the stupidity fun.
The car-eography lacks much of the balls-out audacity we’ve come to enjoy from pistonhead outings, stuck mostly in second gear thanks to lethargic editing and an over-reliance on long shots. That one (bafflingly over-wrought) set-piece involves Imogen Poots climbing out of a window to fill the car up with petrol should tell you all you need to know about the level of invention on show here.
It doesn’t have the video game to blame either, sharing almost nothing beyond the title and opting for an entirely new story that doesn’t bear a great deal of scrutiny. You’ll never understand why Dino (Dominic Cooper) not only leaves damning evidence lying about but keeps a shortcut to it on his desktop, nor how Michael Keaton’s mysterious DJ/race organiser manages to keep his identity secret while live-broadcasting his show via webcam. But as Paul and Poots dangle upside down over the Grand Canyon arguing about whose eyes are bluer, what will baffle most is how a film called Need For Speed can feel so slow.
Paul emerges as the film’s one saving grace, imbuing Tobey with steely earnest and storming through the revenge-themed bunkum with complete abandon. As his first post-Pinkman lead, however, this is a disappointing misstep for an actor of Paul’s potential.
Less a three-lane pile-up than a minor traffic violation in a residential area. Three points for Waugh, then, and a £60 fine.