'Need for Speed' not the ticket

Imogen Poots provides some of the few lighthearted moments in this grim tale of vengeance and V-8s.
Imogen Poots provides some of the few lighthearted moments in this grim tale of vengeance and V-8s.
Posted: March 14, 2014

IN "Need for Speed," Aaron Paul goes from "Breaking Bad" to not braking at all.

He plays a street-racing, blue-collar gearhead who competes in illegal races on public highways, ultimately taking on a fancy-pants nemesis (Dominic Cooper) against whom he has a serious and growing grudge.

The movie (based on the video game, so you know it's got a solid creative foundation) is full of beautiful cars, glossy all-American backdrops - the story makes its way from rural New York all the way to California, and the movie looks back to the peak car glory days of "Gumball Rally," "Cannonball Run" and "Smokey and the Bandit." (Michael Keaton turns up as a sort of digital-age DJ in a nod to the '70s classic "Vanishing Point.")

But those movies were fun, and "Need for Speed" too often proceeds with a grim seriousness, way too interested in a scowling revenge plot that has Paul's character preoccupied with finding retribution, on the road, for a fatal accident that claimed the life of a friend.

His cause doesn't engender much sympathy. The guy makes his living driving the wrong way on interstates at speeds close to 200 mph, leaving a wake of wrecked cars and, one assumes, wrecked bodies.

Director Scott Waugh ("Act of Valor") tries to lighten the load with some comic supporting roles - Imogen Poots as a cute British blonde who rides shotgun, and Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi as a wisecracking pilot who is the driver's eye in the sky.

Comedy, though, is not Waugh's thing (we'll always have "Talladega Nights"), nor are performances. His instructions to Paul are to issue periodic howls of spiritual anguish, which Paul can certainly do, having spent all those years working for Walter White.

I wonder about the potential audience for this movie. Young men have deserted the box office in droves. They're at home playing "Need for Speed" on their devices - the things that preoccupy them the way muscle cars did their fathers.

When they talk about a need for speed, they're talking about faster processors. The cars that excite them will be driverless, so they can play car-driving video games while getting from one place to the next.


Blog: philly.com/KeepItReel

Online: ph.ly/Movies

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