No substance, just GASOLINE

Need for Speed should be called Need for Script

Posted: March 14, 2014 at 2:37 a.m.

Need for Speed chronicles a near-impossible cross-country race — and evokes the car culture ÿlms of the ’60s and ’70s.

I’d rather be watching Aaron Paul cook meth instead of peeling rubber. In Breaking Bad, Paul had the role of his still-young career as Jesse Pinkman, a low-level tweaker who grew from an irritating loser into an oddly sympathetic character.

It would be ridiculous to expect Need for Speed, which is based on the popular series of video games,to offer Paul a similarly dynamic role. But darn it, there should be something interesting going on when the souped-up cars aren’t tearing up the highway. Paul looks sufficiently committed, but Vince Gilligan clearly didn’t write any of the dialogue the actor recites here.

And I’m not saying that because Paul avoids Jesse’s favorite synonym for dog.

Paul doesn’t so much star as Tobey Marshall, as he and the rest of the cast fill in time between auto mayhem. Tobey is a struggling mechanic who was destined to outrun other motorists in street racing. His abilities behind the wheel are negated by his judgment away from the driver’s seat. He cruises past the other racers to win $5,000 pots, the profits of which are probably negated by the cost of having a Cessna pilot (Scott Mescudi) giving him traffic reports from the air.

Tobey’s problems with math appear to be over when a rival racer named Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) offers Tobey and his crew half a million to restore a vintage Mustang. Through a series of events that will make viewers feel as clairvoyant as Miss Cleo, the deal turns tragic and has Tobey seeking revenge.

After Tobey emerges from prison (it’s that bad), he discovers the best way he can get revenge on Dino is to beat him at an invitation-only illegal race on the West Coast. Thanks to the sympathetic owner of the ’Stang, Tony can race it for cash and the chance to clear his name. That’s more than difficult because he has placed a fussy but tough British minder (Imogen Poots) to keep an eye on Tobey and the car.

I should also mention that they have to make it to California from upstate New York in 45 hours. Director Scott Waugh, a former stuntman, certainly knows how to stage crashes and spinouts, but he and screenwriter George Gatins have little idea of what to do once the cars and the motorists have to take pit stops. Character motives are fuzzy, and sometimes it’s difficult to care who gets past what passes for the checkered flag.

Working from a video game as source material is a key mistake. The joy to be had from video games is the interactivity. There’s a feeling of satisfaction in outrunning another racer, eating ghosts when the moment is right or in giving zombies a Second Amendment solution. What happens too often in adaptations is that they become as dull as watching someone else at the controllers. There aren’t many directors or screenwriters who can create situations as exciting as the ones at a player’s fingertips.

Waugh can make jumps and explosions look convincing, but he and Gatins can’t for the life of them come up with credible ways to get to them. Essentially, the roaring of engines becomes monotonous because there’s no suspense to go with the octane.

Thankfully, this isn’t the only movie on Paul’s slate this year. One can hope there’s another great role for him that doesn’t involve illegal blue stimulants.

Need for Speed 72

Cast: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton, Dakota Johnson Director: Scott Waugh Rating: PG-13, for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language Running time: 130 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 03/14/2014