'Need for Speed' review: Aaron Paul stunt fest runs out of gas

Aaron Paul in

Aaron Paul in "Need for Speed."

Rating

2.5 Stars2.5/5

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:22 PM ET

Yeah, they’re fast. And oh boy, are they furious. But don’t confuse Need for Speed with that other franchise about two-dimensional characters driving cars you could never afford in races that could never happen.

Need for Speed is not Fast & Furious. For better or for worse. Mostly for worse.

Taking its name from the Electronic Arts video game franchise that’s spanned 20 years and 140 million copies sold, Need for Speed stars Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as Tobey Marshall, a talented mechanic trying to keep creditors from closing down his late father’s garage. He makes some money on the side winning illegal street races, but grudgingly takes on the job of rebuilding a one-of-a-kind Ford Mustang for his sleazy rival, professional racer Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper).

Testosterone ultimately trumps common sense, and Tobey accepts Dino’s challenge to a race that claims the life of Tobey’s best friend. Dino frames Tobey for the killer crash – apparently none of the witnesses they roared past on the highway noticed there were three cars, and not two – and Tobey is hauled off to prison.

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Upon his release, and with vengeance on his mind, Tobey and his crew (including Imogen Poots as the chipper British love interest and rapper Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi as a pilot) must zip across the country to take part in a supercar race sponsored by an eccentric billionaire (Michael Keaton, who appears to be reinventing himself by playing scenery-gnawing lunatics.) Tobey’s nemesis Dino is one of the other competitors, see. Spoiler alert: there are crashes. Additional spoiler alert: there are spoilers.

Directed by former stunt coordinator Scott Waugh (Act of Valor), Need for Speed isn’t actually trying to be Fast & Furious, and maybe there’s some good in that. Where the latter is basically The Avengers with cars – a team of indestructible heroes pulling off feats that defy the laws of physics – Need for Speed has virtually no CGI, so the races and crashes have a heft and weight we rarely see in action films anymore.

But as much as I like Aaron Paul, Need for Speed is not a great vehicle for him, pun wholly intended. He’s a small, sweet man, and although Breaking Bad showed that he’s capable of complexity and menace, neither of those things is on display in this film.

Car porn aficionados should have a turgid time with Need for Speed, though, especially the climactic race that sees the likes of a Lamborghini Elemento, Saleen S-7 and McLaren P-1 swerving along twisty mountain roads. Yeah, most of the cars are replicas – it’s not like they’re going to destroy a $1 million piece of drivable art for this – but it’s a thrilling race, and in a weird way does capture the look and vibe of the video games on which the movie is ever so tenuously based.

While it may make the Fast & Furious films feel like the works of playwright David Mamet, if you love expensive cars, big stunts and cute girls with accents, there are worse ways to kill a couple of hours than with Need For Speed. Just make sure you shift your brain into neutral and ease way, way off the gas.

Twitter: @stevetilley

steve.tilley@sunmedia.ca


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