Aaron Paul wasn’t a legitimate Hollywood star until recently. And then he broke bad. If the hoots and whistles for an American TV star (who essayed one of the greatest characters in television/movie history) in a Chennai screen is anything to go by then television’s overtaking of film pop culture is truly complete. The difference here though is Jesse Pinkman of Breaking Bad was serviced by great writing. Tobey Marshall of Need for Speed – the video game from EA Sports made into a movie – is given nothing to work with. Even a semblance of a script is nowhere to be found.
There isn’t much of a story. Tobey is a mechanic/car enthusiast. Loses money to rich racer. Loses friend to death. Races some more. Gets chased by cops. Wins race. Wins money. Wins girl. Takes revenge. The cliched revenge story of the under privileged over privileged is not the problem. Even cliches can be done well. But the cars in Need for Speed move 200 times faster than the screenplay does. There is no effort to make us invest in these characters. Julia played by Imogen Poots (in the film’s worst performance) repeatedly remarks how the guys are condescending towards her. But the fact is the film comes across as extremely condescending to her character.
Director Scott Waugh crams in all the Need for Speed video game staples into the two hour or so run time. The cross country road trip exists mainly to accomplish this. The racing amidst peak traffic, the driving on the wrong side of the road, the cops chasing, the deserted Nevada roads and Grand Canyon. Of course, Tobey probably takes the longer route to do the cross country. All this when he is hard pressed for time. But who can complain when the sequences are so unimaginative? The only good moment comes early in the film when a race starts not with a gunshot or lights but with a train whistle.
The film is soporific after a point and you wish you had the controls of a joystick to make things exciting or just shut them off. Aaron Paul can’t save the film. Even if he could, there is Michael Keaton hamming it up as an annoying radio show host. There are just too many things going against this film that is always on the shoulder and never on the road.
(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)