Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Need for Speed

Film #429

THE PLOT

Fresh from prison, a street racer who was framed by a wealthy business associate joins a cross country race with revenge in mind. His ex-partner, learning of the plan, places a massive bounty on his head as the race begins.

Year 2, Film #64

THE REVIEW: Like the time that I saw Battleship, my expectations going into Need for Speed weren’t that high. After both films however, I was pleasantly surprised with how entertained I was. Need for Speeddelivers high in the action and suspense departments and has a story that’s just interesting enough to keep you invested in the movie from start to finish. There are many questionable moments throughout the film and many that perpetuate bad film stereotypes, but a few instances aside, many of these problems can be lost in your suspension of disbelief if you let it. 

By all accounts the biggest draw for Need for Speed is the action and the car chases. It’s based off a car-racing video game and the two main characters in the film are car racers: Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) who’s a blue-collar worker and Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) who is a wealthier businessman-type. There are about four or five major chase scenes that involve multiple cars duking it out, some including police cars and helicopters. In addition, there are many smaller scenes (like a mobile refueling) scattered throughout as in the latter chunk of the film, Tobey needs to travel cross-country from New York to California in under 45 hours which of course involves lots of cars.

It’s hard to elaborate on what makes good action good because it doesn’t rely on nuance or subtlety like great acting or a great story does. But what I can talk about is how exhilarating it feels. The speed of the cars used in the film ranges anywhere from 180 mph up to 270 mph which is much faster than I could ever imagine driving a car. But what makes Need for Speed so exhilarating is the location they’re driving these cars. While Rush was more appealing from a story perspective, it also had its fair share of action. The difference between the two films though, in terms of the cars and racing, is that Need for Speed doesn’t take place on a Formula One track; it takes place on city streets and highways. While Rush delivered a high level of excitement, especially in rainy conditions and given the intense rivalry between the two competitors, Need for Speed has a much grittier feel to it. Here they have to deal with things like traffic, pedestrians, 90˚ turns, and countless other obstacles scattered about their “racetrack”.

But even a great action film needs a good story to hold everything together and make these amazing chases and crashes worth watching. Because without a story bringing everything together, the action is nothing more than eye candy that you can find countless hours of just browsing through YouTube. The story in Need for Speed has its fair share of ups and downs but overall, it’s good enough to maintain your interest throughout. It’s a simple good guy vs. bad guy story (Tobey vs. Dino) with a love element thrown in, Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), as well as a family element, Anita (Dakota Johnson) and her younger brother Pete (Harrison Gilbertson). Basic setup is that Dino frames Tobey for a murder that he committed and after Tobey gets out on parole, he seeks revenge to both clear his name and make Dino pay for the death on his hands. The best part about the story is its simplicity. Easy to follow along with yet still has some major points scattered throughout. You’re also clearly rooting for Tobey and for good to prevail and to help him along are his fellow mechanics, some of the best being Benny (Kid Cudi) and Finn (Rami Malek). Dino is also setup in such a way that there is absolutely nothing to like about him. Not the best of villains, but definitely a good target to direct all of your anger.

That isn’t to say Need for Speed doesn’t have it’s fair share of questionable and poorly written moments. While I’m able to suspend my disbelief quite easily and go wherever the film takes me, several things took me out of the moment and had me second-guessing things. First, the involvement of police. For such elaborate and planned races, especially the Delon race at the end which the Monarch (Michael Keaton) has hosted for years now, how is it that the police seem surprised and unprepared to deal with the situation. With thousands, if not millions, of people following along on the internet, the race is a big deal and yet the police just randomly happen across six sports cars racing along the highway one morning. The amount of injuries, or rather the lack thereof, is also a bit unreasonable. The mayhem and destruction that the cars create in Need for Speed is quite substantial and yet the consequences of these crashes (the resulting injuries) seem nonexistent — that is until some more serious events during the final race.

Another point of contention for the film is its treatment of women. While it isn’t unsurprising (Need for Speed is by no means the only Hollywood film that looks down on women and treats them as sex objects) it is a little disheartening, especially because there’s several opportunities in the film to combat this behavior. In the first race in Tobey’s hometown, there is one female racer but she’s shown only once (at the starting line) for no more than a second or two. But by far the biggest example of this sexism is Julia. The first time we’re introduced to her is at the debut of the renovated Mustang and she’s made out to be a stupid woman who knows nothing about cars. Turns out, she’s a car dealer and knows quite a bit. Okay, that’s good, but she’s quickly demeaned and becomes Tobey’s attractive counterpart and is only useful as the passenger. And she’s not even good at that because, as Tobey mentions, she wears high-heels and talks too much. Yeah. She even demonstrates herself as a very skilled and intelligent driver a bit later on in the film, but this act of empowerment is once again looked down on and belittled.

Need for Speed was quite literally a whirlwind rind that keeps you entertained throughout. The cars, chases, action, and suspense are all top-notch and given the in-the-street location, feels much more dangerous and gritty than professional racing can. The simple good vs. evil story is solid in many respects and gives you something more to watching this film than simple action sequences. But there are parts of the story that raise questions and just straight-up perpetuate long-held stereotypes. It shouldn’t affect your viewing experience too much as the action overrides a lot of it, but it does hold the film back from being as good as it possible could be.

Need for Speed opens in theaters on March 14, 2014.

THE RATING: 3 out of 5