WITH what of merit does first-time writer George Gatlin provide his audience enough to sustain their attention for 131 minutes?
In the hands of director Scott Waugh, after the first 20 or so minutes, little that’s new. The bulk of Waugh’s cinema CV lists frequently uncredited stunts in 41 films and TV episodes of little intellectual weight since 1988. One should not trivialise the profession of risking life and limb on camera to save the bacon of higher-priced, less agile, more fragile talent. But Waugh’s work has seldom been in films that you’d want to watch for the comfort they offer to heart and mind. What he gets younger stuntmen to deliver in “Need For Speed” is polished and accomplished of its kind. But enough is enough, don’t you reckon?
Dramatically, it’s about fast cars and their inexorable attraction for young men whose testosterone needs no other mysterious way in which to perform its wonders!
The performance shop where Tobey (Aaron Paul) and his buddies tweak already obscenely-powerful engines to deliver yet more power is financially dead.
Street-racer mogul Dino (Dominic Cooper) offers Tobey the GT500 AC Cobra which Carroll Shelby left uncompleted as a keeper if it wins the next illegal but exciting muscle car contest promoted by lunatic-at-large Monarch (Michael Keaton).
Julia (Imogen Poots), savvier about muscle cars than any blonde chick has any right to be, strikes sparks from Tobey’s narrow-focused ego and over-inflated self-esteem.
These characters and the opportunities they offer for snarling beasts driven contrary to just about every traffic and public safety rule from New York to California to settle Tobey and Dino’s festering rivalry, form the bone and muscle of a film built chiefly to satisfy the hazard cravings of impressionable young minds.
Its best moments are high-speed off-road chases along the rim of the Grand Canyon and the California coast. Its emotional validity wouldn’t pull the skin from a rice pudding. Its credibility is strained. Its acknowledgement that the US does not build, nor has ever built, the world’s best-performing, best-handling muscle cars, is grudging at best. In a straight line, perhaps. But in the real world, nah, no way.
At Hoyts, Dendy and Limelight