Like many film critics, I frequently fantasize being on one end of the camera or another. The generalized speculation at such a regularly employed daydream is attributed to a case of us wanting to "show the professionals how to do it". Now, while the theory that many of those aforementioned professionals would be unable to tell the difference between a certain form of bodily waste and Shinola, it stands to reason that many of them are employed in their fields for a reason. And, while I quite often agree that most of the people in Hollywood don't have a clue as to what they're doing, I'm glad that they are the ones creating and subsequently taking the flak for some of the industry's least-creative ideas and worst-possible attempts at building up a franchise.
Enter the Touchstone (Disney)/DreamWorks joint project Need for Speed: a shameless attempt at competing with Universal's seven picture (and counting) Fast & Furious franchise by bringing a long-running and fairly-unimaginative video game series to the big screen. (Because that big-screen version of Street Fighter simply brought down the house.) And so confident in their intended filmic realization of the popular Electronic Arts game label they were, that they hired a screenwriter with no prior screenwriting history. Likewise, the director of the title - former stuntman Scott Waugh - only ever helmed two other projects, neither of which featured actual actors (see: Act of Valor).
Needless to say, the end result here is quite hideous.
Recently unemployed Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul takes the lead here in this ode to reckless, immature, irresponsible behavior as Tobey: a gifted driver who is prone to being reckless, immature, and irresponsible. He and his crack-shot crew of mechanics - all of whom are grease-free and impeccably groomed to boot - wear their hair up high, hang out together, and turn into frightened little twelve-year-old boys whenever a girl walks by. Mind you, they're grown men. But Tobey and his buddies are nevertheless the epitome of cool, as they drag race throughout urban streets during the night, cracking dumb jokes at each other, don't wear seatbelts (they are lawbreakers, after all), and destroying the homes of poor homeless people left and right - laughing about it every meter of the way.
Tobey even has a young Justin Beiber clone for a pal (played by a Justin Beiber clone), whom we are introduced to spewing some nonsense about visions - which is movie cliché code for "Future Roadkill", incidentally - and who is also the younger brother of Tobey's ex-girlfriend Anita (Dakota Johnson) - and Tobey's phone even bears an image of her from an actual scene in the movie, just in case the teenage boys watching the movie forget about the only other girl in the entire film. Rounding out the circle of platitude is Anita's current beau, second-billed Dominic Cooper (aka Richard Grieco v2.0), who challenges Tobey and Pete to a high-speed race through a surprising lawless New York suburbia of Georgia - which, naturally, ends with Pete Beiber dying a horrible death in a big fiery horrible crash.
Well, two years after being put away for manslaughter and illegal racing (two years, really?), Tobey goes right back to being a reckless, immature, and irresponsible jackass. Borrowing a rare Ford Shelby Mustang that somehow slipped through a wormhole from the future (as it looks like a pretty darn modern Shelby Ford Mustang) which comes complete with a female sidekick (Imogen Poots, A Late Quartet), a numbers gal (and the first of the two women in the entire feature) for the owner of said vehicle. The owner of said vehicle who doesn't so much as call to see how things are going, even well after the car is totaled later on in the movie in San Francisco. But I'm getting ahead of myself. After getting out, Tobey gets his old gang back to better and they all head out to San Francisco. There.
Interestingly, one of the many great car chase scenes in the film finds our hero and heroine recklessly, immaturely, and irresponsibly taunting the police in Detroit - wherein it is revealed they only have four cop cars. The entire state of Nebraska only has one state trooper, too, since I've touched upon that subject. And yet, Mendocino County has infinitely more highway patrol vehicles - and their gun-toting officers, after losing many a man (presumably in terms of death) and automobile whilst trying to apprehend the participants of the film's final race don't even so much as kick our hero when he's down. Oh drat, I got ahead of myself again there. Sorry.
But I'm being a nitpicker, folks (which is something my late grandfather always called the California Highway Patrol). At its core, Need for Speed is a terrible movie; a blatant rip-off of a certain other film franchise (whose co-star, another fellow by the name of Paul, died a horrible death in a big fiery horrible crash due to reckless, immature, and irresponsible behavior) where the actors - many of whom have at least an inkling of talent, I'm certain (Aaron Paul couldn't have earned all those awards for Breaking Bad for nothing, right?) - seem to be so pumped full of Valium that they make Vin Diesel look like a slightly animated Vin Diesel, and whose conversations with each other are just as bad as their ability to keep it on the road. Forgiving the fact that the movie is sending out a very bad message to the addle-brained adolescents it was manufactured for (note how the movie's one black character - portrayed by rapper Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi - is last seen in the slammer, still being the comic relief), I have to issue the filmmakers a compliment for the driving scenes.
In this age where every other movie released to theaters could be entitled CGI: The Movie, it's most refreshing to see actual cars being driven by actual stunt drivers and actually wrecking within the realms of the real world. In fact, the racing scenes and car chases are well-worth the price of admission, as the filmmakers - thanks to their generous grants from the states of Utah, Michigan, and Georgia, along with sponsors galore - opted to use real goods instead of phony-looking computer-generated crap. Sadly, you have to tread through a venerable mountain of tedious tripe laced with numerous landmines disguised as plotholes in order to achieve that much of a rewarding payoff. Had they included an option to just see these parts of the movie in order, I would have utilized it and saved myself the rest of the life-essence the entire two-hour-plus feature sucked out of me. Oddly enough, the Blu-ray release of Need for Speed completely omits the 3D version of the film as it was originally released to theaters.
But what we do get here is a dynamic 1080p MPEG-4/AVC transfer of an overall bad movie that looks nothing short of absolutely stunningly marvelous. Crisp, clear, and finely detailed to the point where we can spot when the movie switches from night to day like the ghost of Ed Wood came in to shoot for a day, or at the very minimum argue that Aaron Paul's eyes aren't all that blue, the video presentation here is exceptional. The same goes for the DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 7.1 soundtrack, which gives us all the bells and whistles we'd expect from a sight-and-sound-spectacular flick such as this. Additional audio options are available in the way of Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish selections and an English 2.0 Descriptive Video Service track. (You know, because blind people love racing movies.) English (SDH), French, and Spanish subtitles are also on-hand.
Special features for this adrenaline-fueled dud include far too many behind-the-scenes and making-of EPK nonsense (the kind of disc fodder we've come to expect from those movies that prefer to go the style over substance manner), an audio commentary by director Waugh and lead actor Paul, several deleted scenes (dear God, no!), and one of the lamest outtake reels I've ever seen. I haven't bothered mentioning Michael Keaton's involvement in the film prior to this because - like most of the supporting cast - he literally brings nothing to the fray. Never emerging from his one room set, Keaton was probably brought in for a good hour's worth of filming, and this bonus item compiles random, unfunny adlibs as performed by the former Batman and co-star Scott Mescudi. Frankly, I think that brief bit alone could be more painful than viewing the entire feature film itself.
But probably not. Then again, at least Need for Speed has some darn good moments with cars going fast and stuff. And I can honestly say that, were I asked to direct, I wouldn't have been able to helm a movie such as this. Of course, one of my biggest nightmares as an imaginary filmmaker would be to have someone dump a dull, lazy, and unimaginative script like Need for Speed in my lap and told to make it happen.
My advice is, if you simply have to see it, just rent it and watch the car stunt footage. The rest of the movie will make you cringe.
Need for Speed releases on Blu-ray Combo Pack, Digital HD, DVD and On-Demand August 5th from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.