For anybody tired of digital movie car chases that, while fast and furious, routinely defy the laws of physics, here’s one where the cars and stunts are real (mostly) and spectacular. A cross-country sprint followed by a daredevil dash through rural California by the superest of today’s supercars, “Need for Speed” is a car-lover’s dream, a showcase for everything from Bugatti Veyrons to vintage Camaros.
It’s a “Cannonball Run” throwback, with drivers punching through gears and burning through tires as they dodge the cops in illegal street races. Given state-of-the-art stunts and 3-D cinematography, it’s a trip.
But “Need for Speed” also makes the journey from video game to big screen without the curse of logic and without the benefit of a punchy, pithy script for its cliched characters to quote. Dumb? They’ve almost out-dumbed the dumbest “Fast and Furious” movie.
Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad” is Tobey, a car builder and racer from rural New York whose rivalry with the hometown boy (Dominic Cooper) who made it to the Indy 500 reveals the consequences of tearing it up on public highways. Somebody gets killed, on top of all the innocent bystanders and their SUVs, school buses and mommy vans that they run off the road.
Tobey gets out of jail, rounds up his posse (Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez) and sets out for revenge.
First, he has to get a car. So he talks a billionaire collector into lending him a Shelby Mustang that he customized. As if that would happen. Tobey’s team includes a pilot (Mescudi) who can tip him off about directions and police lying in wait, and a chase truck that can refuel that thirsty beast on the road. As if that’s practical
And the car comes with its own “right seater,” a navigator/co-driver who is the owner’s hot blonde car acquisitions specialist, played by Imogen Poots.
That almost never happens.
They’re dashing from upstate New York, through New York City to Detroit, then Indiana, Monument Valley, Arizona, Utah’s Bonneville salt flats and into San Francisco, where the REAL race will start. Apparently, their sat-nav sucks.
The real race, the DeLeon, is run by a mysterious, manic and motor-mouthed millionaire (Michael Keaton) who broadcasts the races online. “Nobody knows who he is,” even though his webcasts are on video and we can see him.
But get past those head-slappers, give up on hearing any dialogue snappier than, “Looks like a scene out of ‘Speed’ down there; hard left in 3, 2, 1 ...” and this is a car fanatic’s dream.
Stuntman turned director Scott Waugh (“Act of Valor”) makes this into a stunt team tour de force. No, nobody ever changes tires, no matter how much Tobey drifts that beefy, 900hp Mustang. And some of the bits where cars get airborne are preposterous outside of an auto stunt show. But these throaty machines are put through their paces, with enough of the driv ing tricks plainly performed by the cast to make this a car culture picture of which Steve McQueen might approve.
The cast doesn’t have the sassy swagger of the “Fast & Furious” crew. Paul, surrounded by co-stars of the same modest height, isn’t particularly charismatic in this setting. He’s not a natural “quiet tough guy.”
But the actors are second bananas here — to the Koenigsegg Ageras, Saleens and Shelby Mustang that feed America’s “Need for Speed,” on screen and off. And whatever the screenwriter’s failings, the cars deliver.