The fact that Need for Speed is watchable, let alone occasionally enjoyable, is a testament to two things: the movie star potential of Aaron Paul, and the relative ease with which a film can make fast cars look really cool.
Paul made his bones playing Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad, and it's clear from the beginning that Need for Speed wasn't blessed with the sterling screenplay penmanship of Vince Gilligan. The film is based on the (played-out) video game franchise Need for Speed, yet it's about as coherent as a four-star rampage chase in Grand Theft Auto.
As mechanic/underground racer Tobey Marshall, Paul utilizes his manic eyes and smirking cockiness to great effect, though his brooding character is underwritten for his babbling talents. Tobey is generally considered to be a fantastic driver and gifted body shop worker (his buddies have all sorts of gizmos to help him out, including a freaking plane), yet he can't afford the mortgage. To make ends meet, he takes a car upgrade order from his slippery enemy Dino (Dominic Cooper) and makes him mad in the process, leading to an impromptu race that ends with one racer dead and Tobey in jail for manslaughter.
The rest is part revenge tale, part road movie, part action film, and mostly ridiculous. When he gets out of the clink with a scowl on his face, Tobey has about two days to drive across the entire country to enter a race and somehow clear his name. He gets into a few chase scenes with the police, none of which would have been necessary for him to get into if he didn't want to. He and his cronies go out of their way to cause trouble, most notably when Kid Cudi steals a military helicopter and when Rami Malek quits his job by walking out of the office naked.
The car scenes aren't that close to Fast 6 quality, yet they're at least more thrilling than the likes of last year's Getaway. There's something thrilling about the many sounds and close-ups of rumbling car parts in a film -- or maybe the thrilling part is just the thought of Michael Keaton sitting in a room and overacting. Either way, Need for Speed isn't the worst video game movie adaptation. But that's not really saying much.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language.
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