need-for-speed-poster2014

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Directed by: Scott Waugh

Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton 

There remains an unfair hostility to video games as a legitimate art form. To many they are just mindless and often hyper violent entertainment. This does a great disservice to a burgeoning and wonderfully creative form but it’s easy to understand why minds are not changed when abysmal fare like Need for Speed pops up touting its gaming origins.

The Need for Speed gaming franchise is long running and extremely successful but hardly renowned for the quality of the plotting. It’s a dubious credit that the film remains true to this by refusing to come up with one despite a running time that stretches past the two hour mark. Instead, Scott Waugh’s film opens with a race, closes with a race and includes a long road trip punctured by frequent chases in the middle.

What little story there is centres on Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul). A talented driver, he never quite made the big leagues for a reason no one bothers to explain, choosing instead to run a custom car garage by day and compete in illegal street races by night. After being framed for the death of a friend, he comes out of prison determined to gain revenge over his arch-nemesis Dino (Dominic Cooper) by gaining entry into an inexplicably desirable street race orchestrated by Monarch, Michael Keaton’s irritating character.

The most striking, and easily the most repellent element of Need for Speed is the casual disregard for other motorists and pedestrians. With their flashy muscle cars and endless banter, we are supposed to revel in their high risk antics as Tobey and his fellow racers recklessly plough through anyone who dares to use the public road network during the middle of their macho contests.

They whoop and laugh while causing multiple pile-ups, thrills supposedly coming as they sneak through narrow gaps escaping horrific crashes by mere inches. The racers may come through unscathed but everyone else is left to swerve off the road or smash straight into each other. At one stage, Tobey only just avoids hitting a homeless man, destroying his shopping trolley in the process. This is cause for much hilarity amongst his crew. It’s hard to root for anyone when they are all jerks. Sure, Tobey looks good in comparison to Dino but it’s like being offered the choice between a mugging or pickpocketing. One may be worse but neither is desirable.

If you can struggle through the moral bankruptcy running down the middle like an 8 lane highway, you’ll find an even more disappointing experience. The dim macho posturing (sunglasses in a night race?), condescension towards women (poor Imogen Poots the main loser here), repetitive stunts and uninspired race choreography all combine to create a thoroughly unappealing package.

That the action turns out to be so dull is unforgivable. There is perhaps 30 minutes of decent stuff, enough for most films, but Need for Speed dispenses with pretty much every minute of story in exchange for action sequences. And that remaining hour and a half sure drags. There’s not even the virtue of an entertaining pantomime performance to lift the malaise. Paul emerges with the most credit in as much as he doesn’t have to do a great deal. Cooper makes for a villain with as much menace and practical applicability as an outdated Argos catalogue, Keaton flails around like an overstimulated ape and Poots is the annoying stock English character in an American soap. All in all, a fairly dispiriting bunch.

All that’s left is the sure relief that it has to end eventually. Unpleasant moral undercurrents, a plot that’s nonsensical only when not non-existent, characters as badly written as they are acted and action sequences that resemble a robot vacuum cleaner stuck circling the dining room all combine to create a film that makes The Fast and the Furious look like the cultural high watermark of our civilisation. 2014 has its first genuinely appalling effort.

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