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Review: Need For Speed movie breaks bad

By Chris Scullion on Sunday 9th Mar 2014 at 10:00 AM UTC

We're hardly discovering alchemy when we say that movies based on video games have a bad reputation.

You don't need us to tell you the likes of Super Mario Bros, House Of The Dead, Max Payne and Double Dragon have taken our favourite pastime and kicked it so hard in the ribs it needs to walk about with bandages wrapped around it, Resident Evil 2 style.

Each time a new game movie is revealed we go through an even more miserable alternative to the Sonic cycle. Whereas fans of Sega's mascot at least get excited for a while before the inevitable disappointment follows, the revelation that a new movie based on a game is in the works is invariably met with concern, fear and - when the trailer is released - a shopping list of things that don't seem right.

Need For Speed is the latest offering trying to break this trend. Based on the EA racing series of the same name and released by Entertainment One, it's tasked with a steep challenge: make a film with a memorable plot from a game that doesn't have one.

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Bewilderingly, the results aren't as bad as you may expect.

Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a mechanic who is - inexplicably - into cars. After being told his repair garage is going to be closed down if he can't repay his loan, he reluctantly accepts an offer from his rival Dino (Dominic Cooper): help finish the fabled Ford Mustang that Carroll Shelby was working on when he died, and Tobey will get a quarter of the fee when Dino sells it.

After finishing and selling the car, an argument leads to an all-or-nothing bet: if Tobey can beat Dino in a street race he gets all of the fee. If Dino wins, he gets it all.

Without wanting to spoil too much, the street race (involving three Koenigseggs, car fans) goes baps-up with Dino causing a fatal accident and driving off to leave Tobey to take the blame. Two years later, Tobey's out from prison and ready for revenge. You can tell because of his permanently moody expression.

"What Need For Speed lacks in quality of its performance it makes up for in spectacle"

Upon his release from jail, Tobey learns of a secret California street race being held by legendary racer Monarch (played by Michael Keaton, who clearly filmed all his scenes in one day). Learning that Dino will be taking part in the contest, Tobey decides it'll be his perfect chance to get revenge. There's one problem: he's in New York and the race starts 2800 miles away in California in 45 hours.

Thus begins Tobey's first task, the 'need' for enough 'speed' to get him across America in less than two days. He does this with the help of the chap who bought that Ford Mustang two years ago. He's willing to loan Tobey the car, but only if his business partner Julia (Filth star Imogen Poots) can come along for the ride to make sure it's handled with care.

Cue numerous high-speed hijinks as Tobey and Julia bomb it through America at high speed, all while dealing with the inevitable sexual tension between them and trying to outrun the cops who are understandably a bit peeved that he's once again street racing mere minutes after leaving jail.

If you're struggling to think which Need For Speed game this plot mirrors, don't bother. Whereas the likes of Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros had storylines that were nothing to do with the games they were based on, they at least featured the same characters. Here, the only link between the Need For Speed movie and the games is that both feature cars.

Still, that doesn't mean fans of the games won't still spot a few subtle nods. Naturally, the whole 'get across America quickly' premise is similar to that in Need For Speed: The Run, while canyon racing (a la Need For Speed Carbon) and police evasion (as in... well, all of them, really) also feature at times.

There's even a cheeky cameo from a schoolbus, which long-time Need For Speed fans will remember as a comedy unlockable in some of the earlier games in the series.

That said, the vast majority of the film is original content, with a bunch of set-pieces that are as ridiculous as you'd expect from a film that clearly has The Fast And The Furious series in its sights.

CuDi understand it? Hip-hop star Kid CuDi plays Benny, one of Tobey's friends. He specialises in flying helicopters and spends the majority of the film turning up in all manner of aircraft. Quite how he manages to get hold of them all is a bit far-fetched, as is his ability to fly off when he runs out of fuel, get a different chopper and somehow catch back up with Tobey numerous times.

One scene in particular has Tobey and his friends (who somehow manage to keep up with him throughout the trip) executing a 'hot fuel' procedure. This involves Tobey driving down a motorway at 130mph while a friend with a petrol tanker pulls up alongside him, takes out a nozzle and starts filling up the car on the move.

Apparently, according to Tobey, getting 'hot fuel' is completely necessary because there's literally no time to stop at a petrol station. Thirty minutes later, he stops at a petrol station.

Not that it matters. Most people going to see Need For Speed will expect one thing - expensive cars going very fast - with everything else considered a bonus. In this respect, the film delivers, and it apparently does so without resorting to CGI.

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That's not an exaggeration. Director Scott Waugh has a history of stunts in his family. His dad, legendary stuntman Fred Waugh, performed and co-ordinated stunts in movies for nearly 40 years, with the likes of Minority Report, Heat and Last Action Hero in his resume.

Scott was himself also a stuntman in films like Spider-Man, Speed and Batman Forever, so this explains why Need For Speed's racing scenes are refreshingly CGI-free.

That means, while the cars featured in the film are actually kit cars instead of the real thing (good luck getting a studio to fork out the insurance needed to race and wreck a bunch of $3 million Koenigseggs), all the stunts in the film are completely genuine.

With that in mind, what Need For Speed lacks in the quality of its performances (including Aaron Paul, sadly, who for some reason decides to do his best impression of Christian Bale as Batman), it certainly nails in terms of spectacle.

Whether it's cars soaring through the air, heart-stopping races with GoPro-style camera angles or a ridiculous scene where a helicopter armed with a winch carries a Mustang over a canyon in the most extreme real-life version of Desert Strike we've seen, there's no denying Need For Speed has some impressive moments.

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Let's not get carried away. Need For Speed is a dumb movie. It's a popcorn flick in every sense of the word, with its abysmal acting and unintentionally hilarious moments (like Keaton turning up at the end to close a plothole with an "oh, by the way" line).

But Need For Speed does accomplish something most video game movies fail at: making good on its promise. While the Tomb Raider movie was hyped as the next Indiana Jones and Max Payne was supposed to be a brilliant action movie, both fell short of their unrealistically lofty expectations.

Need For Speed, meanwhile, promises nothing more than cars going incredibly fast and doing some over-the-top stunts. If that's all you're looking for, then you're going to be perfectly happy with what this offers.