Monday, 17 March 2014

Need for Speed Review

Basing films on video games has rarely had any success. Most success has been milder than a korma curry drowned in cream. Dreamworks’ decision to create a film in a game with no storyline seemed a bizarre decision; one to primarily cash in on the success of the Fast and Furious franchise. Cynical as that may seem, it can always reap benefits if you gather the right talent to come together and have some fun. Need for Speed has got some great talent in it with Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots together in the lead roles and a director, Scott Waugh (Act of Valor), who’s committed to using real cars and real carnage for the action sequences. Even with all that real destruction and well made action scenes it still struggles at the basic hurdles of bigger budget filmmaking: action fatigue, lengthy running time, inconsistent writing.
The story created for the game is that Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) owns a garage where he works with his friends and races in his spare time. After his father passes away, the bank warn that they are starting to get behind on their loan, risking a closure if business doesn’t pick up in this small town garage. When his rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) shows back up in town and offers them a job and, afterwards, a race, things turn for the worse for Tobey and his gang. After he is framed and spends two years in prison, he has to get revenge and win the biggest race of the year.
Now is that was all first act stuff, don’t worry about spoilers. Although the cast really seem like they’re having fun – except Dominic Cooper’s one-tone villain who has no redeeming qualities at all. Aaron Paul has fun blatantly skidding a car up to the camera, revelling in the lack of CGI and the director trusting him in a Koenigsegg. The film is all about the entertainment value, or so you would think before going in, but it tries to hard to get an emotional tone that it doesn’t suit nor that it has the necessary writing to pull off. There may be sad moments but they never feel real, just character motivations, straight out of a screenwriting manual. That’s the problem with the loss or the negatives in this film. Never are they presented in a genuine and well-crafted manner but instead as a melodramatic moment of manipulation that isn’t effective. This film has a check list to get through.
Characters are only stock characters too. They are mostly one dimensional creations that don’t have an arc and fulfil narrative duties rather than interest. Once in a while they will get a moment to be funny but it feels as though the jokes are too hit and miss to be enjoyed. Then there comes the most inconsistently written female character in recent memory with Imogen Poots’s Julia, an elegant rich English woman with a knowledge of cars. But there’s problems with her character decisions and their consistency. Constantly she says not to judge her by how she looks but then talks about a fear of heights but that soon disappears. Julia acts fragile at other times and really tough in others as well as somehow finding it charming to be completely judged by gender stereotypes in odd moments. There are a lot of problems with her but Imogen Poots, for the most part, makes it work. Aaron Paul is pretty great in this even if his character isn’t. He really pulls off the charisma and the silent charm of the leading man, with his husky voice and trust in his own stature to speak volumes when necessary.
With all that said, Need for Speed struggles from what everyone expected it to struggle from and that’s the writing. The 130 minute running time is way too long for this film, there are too many moments dragged out in slow motion, that could easily cut about 20 minutes from the film itself. Its length is noticeable, audience members will start to check their watch, baffled at the length of a film that is all about going fast. It doesn’t hold on to the entertainment value that say Fast Five did with its overextension and exaggeration in action sequences. Need for Speed suffers from the fact that it’s supposed to speed along yet crawls along in moments that are unnecessary, unfunny and unfulfilling. Emotional moments are fraudulent and there’s nothing worse than feeling the manipulation of them. Most of the stunts and action sequences are impressively done and they are exhilarating but the entire story and characters surrounding these sequences are as boring as plodding along in a Nissan Micra. It really needed a full service and clean.