Monday, March 17, 2014

Review: Need for Speed (2014)

Need for Speed (2014)

The seventh grader in me was excited as all get out at the prospect of a Need for Speed movie. I loved Super Mario 64Banjo-Kazooie, and GoldenEye 007 as much as the next '90s kid, but it was the Need for Speed games, together with the quite similar Gran Turismo series, that truly made me into a gamer. When I started getting into "retro" gaming, the first thing I did was grab a pair of the old Need for Speed games on the original PlayStation (the third and the fourth, if you're wondering), and lack of depth aside, I'm surprised at how well they hold up. They feel fast as hell, the vistas were often stunningly beautiful in spite of the primitive, three-generations-old graphics, and even having played countless racing games since for over a decade, they were still difficult without being unfairly so. They're games from before rubberband AI (i.e. giving the people in last place a speed boost to catch up) became a thing, and reminders of the time before Electronic Arts earned its reputation as the soul-sucking greed machine it is today (and oh, has it earned that reputation). Sure, game-to-movie adaptations have a staggeringly poor track record, and the Need for Speed games have never been known for their storytelling, but hey, this had Jesse Pinkman in it, so surely it couldn't be that bad.

Moreover, the two people I saw this with, my brother James and his girlfriend Mary, absolutely loved it. As we were walking out of the theater, they couldn't stop gushing about how awesome it was, how much they loved the car chases and the acting and hated the slimy villain. Mary begged me to give this a 6 out of 5(!) when I got home to write this review. So I'm gonna barricade my door, check my gun, and put on flame-proof body armor, because I doubt Mary is gonna be entirely pleased with what I'm about to say.

Need for Speed is two hours of solid entertainment, its car chase action making up for its shortcomings in the story department. Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots make for likable leads, the former not content to just coast on his Breaking Bad success and frequently outshining much of the supporting cast, and the latter playing up her British charm throughout the film and making her character more than just a thankless "let's not make this a total sausage-fest" checkmark. The plot here is pretty much what you'd expect if you've ever played any of the more recent games in the series -- a lot of awful, unintentionally funny dialogue and a villain who is pretty much an excuse to get The Hero (TM) going, all of which is merely connecting tissue for the real purpose of this film. The car chases that make up half the movie aren't the best I've seen, but they were still very cool to watch. Not only were they, for the most part, shot very well, they were helped by the filmmakers' dedication to using practical effects and real cars whenever possible instead of taking the easy way out and using computer effects to simulate the stunts and fiery crashes on display here. (Seeing that Agera getting totaled brought more tears to my eyes than the death of the person driving it.)

And there's not a whole lot else for me to say about this movie. It's entertainment at its most brainless, but I can't say it didn't work as such. At the very least, you could say it's faithful to the games in that department -- the last several games have been legendary for their awful writing masked by flashy production values, all in the service of letting players fulfill their Paul Walker/Vin Diesel fantasies in the comfort and safety of their homes.

Score: 3 out of 5

Is it the best car chase movie ever made? No, probably not. But it's certainly up there as one of the more watchable video game adaptations I've seen (though that may be damning it with faint praise), and even if you're not a fan of the games you'll have no problem shutting your brain off and enjoying this. Just... ignore the story, okay?

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