There’s something thrilling about watching practical stunts in the digital era, which may be why Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed — despite numerous flaws — is just good enough to recommend. Aaron Paul stars alongside Imogen Poots in this tale of a cross country journey in which Paul’s character wants revenge against the man (Dominic Cooper) who framed him for an involuntary manslaughter. My Need for Speed Blu-ray review follows after the jump.
Paul plays Tobey Marshall, who (as established in the overly long opening section) is a great street racer, comes from a line of brilliant mechanics, and is struggling to keep his auto shop open. Enter rich racer Dino Brewster (Cooper), who is not only dating Tobey’s ex (future 50 Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson), but also wants him to finish building a primo car that will sell for over two million once it’s finished. Marshall agrees because he needs the money, and when his work is done he meets Julia Madden (Poots), who works for the person who wants to buy the car. She purchases it, but where Dino was going to give Tobey twenty five percent of the sale, he offers him an all or nothing bet to see who’s the fastest. This then leads to tragedy, as someone dies in the race, and Tobey is blamed even though it was Dino’s fault. This set up takes forty minutes. If they were able to get all of this information packaged into twenty or fifteen minutes, the film might have been a meathead classic, but because it takes so long setting things up, it nearly sinks the film.
Once released from prison, Tobey wants to show the world he’s the best and bring Dino down by competing in a world famous underground street race the De Leon, which is put on by internet talk show host Monarch (Michael Keaton). But it means he’ll have to drive cross country in two days and get an invite to the race by doing some spectacular driving, and when Dino finds out that Tobey wants in, he puts a bounty on Tobey’s head (and car). Once the movie hits the road, it finds the movie it wants to be and offers a lively and slightly sexy car chase/car crash film.
Director Scott Waugh is a stuntman, and his father was a stuntman, so he stages everything practically. Which means that the car-centric set pieces – that make up about half the movie – are spectacular. Though with some (like the grasshopper set piece), you wonder if there isn’t a better angle to convey what’s going on. Knowing they did it all practically is a good selling point, but sometimes it’s hard to tell how cool it is because of the editing (Quentin Tarantino staged the final car chase in Death Proof better than anything on display here). That said, what is here is pretty impressive. It’s just that the film’s structure is such that there’s at once too much plot and not enough story. It’s ultimately a fairly simple tale of revenge, but it takes so long to set up all the pieces in the hero’s journey that the film nearly loses its audience before it really gets going. It’s cool to make a film that harkens back to the great exploitation car movies of the 1970’s, but if you’re going to replicate their stunts, you should also replicate their running times. This film is 131 minutes, and if it were at 110, or shorter, it might have been one of the best action films of the last ten years.
Fortunately, the performers keep you with the movie, even if their characters are free from any great nuance. Aaron Paul goes quiet, and though he doesn’t have the inner fire that makes performers like Steve McQueen or James Coburn so memorable saying so little (Paul’s features are so smooth that it’s harder to buy him as a worldly badass), but he gives it his all, and his raspy mumbles are relatively convincing. But it’s Imogen Poots who steals the film. Playing “the girl,” she manages to be charming, sexy, and fun to be around, while playing off of someone who is not all that interested in anything but his revenge. It would have been a star-making performance if the film connected with audiences. Dominic Cooper does his best playing the villain who is more petty than terrible, and he infused the character with enough humanity to make Dino at least two dimensional, while Dakota Johnson comes off terribly in the movie, as the only impression she makes is that she wasn’t directed particularly well. Paul’s roadcrew, which includes Scott Mescudi, Ramon Rodriguez and Rami Malek, fare better as the film’s comic relief. They may not say anything that funny, but they do appear to be having fun.
If you like watching practical stunts, there’s enough here to make it worth a watch, but it’s suffers from the modern bloat that seems afraid to make a reasonably sized exploitation film. There’s nothing wrong with a ninety minute movie. Oh well.
Touchstone/Disney’s Blu-ray release presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround. The film was released in March and was shot digitally, so it’s no surprise it looks and sounds stunning. This is definitely a film that can be used as a demo disc. A digital download is also included. The film comes with a commentary by Waugh and Paul, and though both are enthusiastic about the title, they don’t provide much insight into the making of the movie.
There are a number of additional supplements: “Capturing Speed: Making an Authentic Car Movie” (10 min.) gives the film’s cars their due and emphasizes the practical stunts, while “Ties that Bind” (12 min.) puts focus on the movie’s stuntmen and points out that it is a family business. “The Circus Is in Town” (11 min.) showcases the film’s location work, while “The Sound of Need for Speed” (9 min.) highlights the film’s sound design and score while in the post-production process. There’s nothing here that’s particularly memorable or interesting, unfortunately. There are also four deleted scenes (5 min.) which don’t amount to much and outtakes (2 min.) that focus on Scott Mescudi and Michael Keaton improv-ing. Rounding out the supplements is a trailer for the upcoming Need for Speed Rivals game.