As much as I may have disliked director Scott Waugh’s big screen debut Act of Valor, I feel the exact opposite about his latest venture: the Electronic Arts video game adaptation of Need for Speed. Waugh stages the kind of big, dumb fun we come to expect in the summer. Armed with enough car chases, crashes, and adrenaline to make most action directors blush, you’d never know these two films were from the same director.
Need for Speed opens with a monologue by Monarch (Michael Keeton)—a reclusive host of underground races called the DeLeon. He talks up the likes of Mt. Kisco, New York racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), how he could be the best racer in the world if he had a car that was as good as he is a driver. When Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) comes back to town with Tobey’s old flame Anita (Dakota Johnson) in tow, Dino offers Tobey the opportunity to make some big money and save his father’s mechanic shop. Dino also offers thanks by offering him the chance to race in one of his three illegal Koenigsegg Ageras, the third being driven by Anita’s brother Pete (Harrison Gilbertson).
When Pete dies after Dino crashes his car and leaves the scene, Dino’s Agera winds up missing and Tobey is the only witness that can place Dino at the scene of the crime. Tobey is incarcerated for two years for manslaughter and after being released, asks for help from his old crew—including Julia (Imogen Poots), who has connections to get him a car—to get an invitation to the DeLeon. With only 45 hours to get to San Francisco, Tobey and Julia hit the road to score an invite and prove his innocence.
For a film based on a video game that is literally nothing but driving around, screenwriter George Gatins sure has come up with what could be seen as highly convoluted. Thankfully, Waugh has learned a few things after Act of Valor (which even scores a cameo as a DVD cover at a truck stop which feels right where it belongs). Aaron Paul proves he can carry a film while the supporting cast is having a blast; particularly Rami Malek and Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi) who score some big laughs.
With Justin Lin taking over the Fast & Furious franchise, Waugh gives every film in that series a run for its money. Need for Speed is the best action film of the year thus far, even if it’s far from being mentally titillating. A particular plot hole is big enough that you can fly a car through it, and Waugh actually does. Adrenaline is at full force and Need for Speed (ironically slang for methamphetamine considering Aaron Paul’s Breaking Bad) is all we could ask for until summer finally kicks into full gear.
Pictures courtesy Touchstone Pictures