[Screen It]


(2014) (Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots) (PG-13)

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Action: A young man leads a high speed chase across the country to enter an illegal but high-stakes race he hopes will help avenge the death of his friend at the hands of his top competitor.
Tobey Marshall (AARON PAUL) is a blue collar mechanic who lives in the small town of Mount Kisco, New York and has inherited his father's auto garage. When he and his friends -- Benny (SCOTT MESCUDI), Finn (RAMI MALEK), Joe (RAMON RODRIGUEZ) and Pete (HARRISON GILBERTSON) -- aren't scraping by working on cars, they're entering illegal races with Tobey behind the wheel and Benny serving as his eyes in the sky, watching out for traffic and cops.

The most famous racer from Mount Kisco, however, is Tobey's rival, Dino Brewster (DOMINIC COOPER), who not only stole away his girlfriend and Pete's sister, Anita (DAKOTA JOHNSON), but was also a successful Indy racer and now runs his own business. Realizing Tobey's gift with cars, he offers him the chance to rebuild a legendary Ford Mustang in exchange for a cut of the future sale of it. Underwater financially, Tobey reluctantly agrees, with British car buyer Julia Maddon (IMOGEN POOTS) eventually getting a look at the finished product for her buyer. But Tobey and Dino's rivalry isn't finished, and an impromptu race with them and another man results in Dino causing that man's death but allows the blame to be pinned on Tobey.

Two years later, Tobey is released from prison intent on avenging his friend's death. Knowing that Dino will be racing in a secret and illegal but high-stakes race put together by a racing mastermind known as the Monarch (MICHAEL KEATON), Tobey -- with Julia as his unlikely and initially unwelcome passenger -- sets out on a high speed sprint across the country. From that point on, and eluding the law along the way, he knows he must make a scene to grab Monarch's attention and be invited to the big race.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
For anyone who sits through the very end of movie credits, a common site is the disclaimer that no animals were harmed during the making of the picture. While the validity of that has been brought into question of recent, you certainly never see the same thing said about crewmembers, performers, or stunt people. Granted, in today's world, if a person is badly injured during a production, word gets out quite quickly, and there are the unions and such that work for those people.

That said, when watching a film such as "Need for Speed," you certainly think about the stunt drivers and if any of them were harmed. At the same time, I'm guessing certain car enthusiasts likely feel the same way about exotic sports cars depicted in films like this, especially when the likes of a Bugatti Veyron (and its rough price tag of several million dollars) is not only put in harm's way, but seemingly damaged during the big race scenes.

Some may argue that's the (high) price one pays for making a movie where reportedly no CGI effects were used to depict such vehicular madness. Yet, I'd have to say some degree of injury must have occurred to writers George Gatins & John Gatins and/or director Scott Waugh before or during production. And that's because aside from the sight of such lovely, sleek and powerful automobiles in motion, this is one of the dumbest car racing pics ever put on film.

To be fair, I wasn't expecting Shakespeare or any sort of Oscar worthy work. And yes, I realize it's based on a video game series (and a very popular one at that), so both fans of that as well as casual viewers obviously wouldn't have high expectations. Even so, the various pivotal plot points scattered throughout the film are never believable, while the performances never get out the gear of mediocre.

The plot is simple yet unnecessarily convoluted, with a set-up that takes way too long before getting to the meat of the offering. Aaron Paul plays blue collar mechanic Tobey Marshall, a mostly stone-faced and dour protagonist who's hard to care or root for. His father has apparently died of recent, thus leaving him with an auto shop that's underwater. In fact, Tobey and his pals (Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez and Harrison Gilbertson) make most of their money from participating in illegal road races, but the film's "hero" is far removed from the success of his former classmate and still chief rival (Dominic Cooper just one step away from having a thin mustache he can twirl while cackling away).

Not only did Dino steal away Tobey's girlfriend (Dakota Johnson) sometime in the past, but he went on to wild success in the Indy circuit and then as a businessman. For reasons that make no sense at all and are thus never believable, Dino decides to offer Tobey and his rag-tag crew the chance to build out the never finished work of Carroll Shelby's legendary, souped-up Mustang. That eventually results in a British car buyer (Imogen Poots) arriving to look over the goods.

But the aforementioned rivalry gets the best of both men and during their race with one of the other guys, the third wheel ends up killed after Dino bumps his car off a bridge. The pro flees the scene (to win the race) and somehow Tobey is charged with vehicular manslaughter and spends two years in the joint. Along those same inexplicable lines, the hot Brit then shows up with her client's uber-expensive Mustang that Tobey will be allowed to drive in a highly secretive and illegal but ultra-lucrative road race run by someone known only as Monarch (Michael Keaton).

And that's when the film finally kicks into gear as Tobey and Julia set off on a quick, cross-country jaunt to enter that race so that the protagonist (whose facial expression has pretty much remained unchanged) can avenge his friend's death by defeating his rival. Along the way, he breaks parole, drives like a madman (including the wrong way down a road) and eludes the police.

While some of that is to get the Monarch's attention so as to be invited to the race, the rest isn't believable as such behavior obviously draws the attention of the law and thus would ruin his chances of participating in the race and completing his goal of being an avenger. Then there's the fact that his driving behavior also damages the car which would have the same result.

Along the way, one crewmember (Malek) decides to quit his office desk job by stripping down fully naked, kissing a coworker and then parading down the hall, into the elevator, through the lobby and out onto the street (casually, not in the more playful Ray Stevens mode, because, you know, that's how most people leave work). At the same time, another crewmember (Mescudi) has unlikely access to a lot of aircraft, including (in yet another unbelievable scene) an Army chopper used in one of the film's bigger stunts. He ends up in military jail but manages to convince an MP to allow him to watch the race on an iPad.

With so much eye rolling, it's likely viewers won't always have their eyes on the "road" and thus might miss some of the racing and speeding footage. Fear not, dear reader, as much of it is highly repetitive, although some brief moments are decently staged. But as is the case with most such flicks, the true litmus test is how I drove home after the screening. While such footage did indeed have me a bit revved up, it wasn't anywhere near the likes of the best of the genre.

So much of the film is so inane, however, that such adrenaline pumping moments end up dampered. If you want to see a far better movie about racing rivals, check out Ron Howard's "Rush" from last year, or if you're just interested in dumb, revved up machismo-meets-machine, catch one of the better "Fast & Furious" flicks. "Need for Speed" is in need of a better script, direction and performances, and thus rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed March 11, 2014 / Posted March 14, 2014

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