"Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul is heading to theaters this weekend in "Need for Speed."
We were able to check out a screening of DreamWorks' video game adaptation Monday.
Aside from the "Resident Evil" franchise, Hollywood hasn't had a good track record bringing games to theaters so I went in with pretty low expectations. After a long 2 hrs and 10 minutes, I was left pretty unimpressed, walking away more knowledgeable about Ford's new Mustang out next year.
For a movie based on a game about racing, there are two real races in the film at the beginning and end. In between, the rest plays out like a giant ad for Ford’s 2014 Mustang as the audience watches — and listens — to the 900 horsepower (an imaginary number made for the film) vehicle race from New York to California in 48 hours to compete in a secret race.
The film follows Paul as Tobey Marshall, a natural born driver (clearly with the need for speed). However, instead of pursuing his dreams and ending up an international racer, he’s a simple mechanic working at his own shop in a small upstate New York town with a gang of buddies.
While Paul is the film’s lead, the main star of the film is the Shelby GT500 Mustang Marshall and his crew are asked to work on at the film’s start.
This shouldn’t be a surprise.
Ford and DreamWorks collaborated on an extensive partnership on the film, with the motor vehicle company making a special Mustang for production. The car is based on the 2013 Shelby GT500 for the car’s creator Carroll Shelby. He was working on a 50th anniversary edition of the car before passing away in 2012. (You get this rundown in the film.) A total of seven Mustangs were built for the film either for shots or specific stunts.
No sooner than the car is introduced on screen, does the audience get hit with a list of specs of the imaginary Mustang. This comes courtesy of actress Imogen Poots who proves girls can be knowledgeable about muscle cars, too. Soon after, we see Marshall take the ’stang for a test drive on a closed course to show off an impressive top speed of 234 mph. (In actuality, the vehicle built for the film tops out at 190 mph.)
For a majority of the film we watch Paul show off what the car can do — weave in and out of traffic seamlessly, soar across three lanes of traffic, make unbelievably wicked sharp turns, and go off road.
Not even the “Fast and the Furious” franchise made sure the audience was so invested in one particular car.
Don't get us wrong, the Shelby looks great during its time on screen. (*spoiler*It's extended ad comes to a screeching halt when the car is totaled near the film's end.*spoiler*) All the cars in the film do. Director Scott Waugh makes his action sequences look incredibly believable.
That's because DreamWorks’ big selling point for the film is that it’s made entirely without CGI. As a result, there are a few cool scenes with cars on a bridge, flying across traffic, and getting picked up by a helicopter that make you appreciate it was all done without a green screen.
As well, Waugh captures the essence of the series on screen by filming not only from the driver’s perspective inside the car, but also outside from different points of view. For those familiar with the “Need for Speed” franchise, it’s a nice nod to the game where players can alternate between a few different angles to view a car while racing.
However, for all the care put into races and cars on screen, the script and dialogue could have used some fine tuning. There are a lot of things that either don’t make sense or that are never fully explained to the audience.
Underneath cars getting smashed to pieces and chased down by cops, there’s a story involving Marshall (Aaron Paul) exacting revenge on an old high school rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) who set him up to take the fall for murder. Marshall's out to even the score by driving across the country to beat him in a race.
Other than some old high school drama, it’s never really explained why Dino and Tobey are rivals from the start.
At various points Tobey’s pal Benny (Scott Mescudi) pops up in a series of random planes and helicopters that make you question whether you're watching "Need for Speed" or "Grand Theft Auto" (another popular gaming franchise).
Personally, one thing I couldn’t comprehend is that while Aaron Paul’s character is so worried about avenging the death of a friend in a car crash early on, there are so many other subsequent and prior crashes caused at his hand throughout the film that’s it’s odd to imagine he can’t feel something for the other lives he’s obviously affecting in addition.
The acting and dialogue don't impress, either. Paul appears to play an incarnation of his “Breaking Bad” character Jesse Pinkman. There’s a scene where his character gets really emotional and Paul’s reaction feels like a scene straight out of the AMC series. (You’ll know it when you see it.)
After “RoboCop,” Michael Keaton attempts to make another return on screen in an unconventional role as an eccentric racing aficionado.
Possibly the best performance in the film was from Poots who instantly brings some life to what feels like an uneven script.
For the many years the "Fast and the Furious” franchise has reigned supreme in theaters, I always imagined one day someone would try to do a “Need for Speed” franchise to compete.
Universal doesn't have to worry.
However nice the cars may be — and they are really nice — and how well done the final race looks, "Need for Speed" never really sets itself up for a sequel. Then again, it's difficult to compete with a franchise that recently commanded more than $1 billion at theaters with a single film.
"Need for Speed" is better than a lot of video game adaptations, but it's definitely not going to be the next great franchise.
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