Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad” stars as street racer Tobey, out to avenge his protege’s death, in “Need for Speed.” | DREAMWORKS PHOTOS
‘NEED FOR SPEED’ ★★1⁄2
Tobey Marshall Aaron Paul
Dino Brewster Dominic Cooper
Julia Maddon Imogen Poots
Monarch Michael Keaton
DreamWorks presents a film directed by Scott Waugh and written by George Gatins. Running time: 130 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language). Opens Friday at local theaters.
Updated: April 15, 2014 6:03AM
While this film is based on the video game franchise of the same name, “Need for Speed” is much more an homage to the macho car-culture flicks of the ’60s and ’70s like “Bullitt,” “Vanishing Point,” “Grand Prix” or even “The French Connection.”
In an age when computer-generated imagery is the norm, it was invigorating to see director (and ex-stuntman) Scott Waugh employ not CGI effects, but action sequences based on real-life stunts. The best parts of “Need for Speed” are the actual racing and chasing sequences — a true thrill ride for the audience as the story unfolds.
“Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul showcases different, more “good guy” acting chops in this film, playing Tobey Marshall, a talented street racer who is the unfortunate victim of some bad breaks. After inheriting his father’s failing garage operation, Tobey is involved in a road accident in which his young protégé Pete is killed. Unfairly blamed, Tobey is held responsible and jailed after the wealthy racer who really caused the kid’s death skips the scene and covers up his guilt.
Released from prison, Tobey proceeds to go on a double quest: to avenge young Pete’s death and to win the huge prize money offered in the DeLeon, a super-secret race organized and financed by a mysterious billionaire and car fanatic played with his usual eccentricity by Michael Keaton.
The dramatic tension is provided by a whirlwind cross-country race in a classic Shelby Mustang with the clock running fast. Tobey has to make it from Mt. Kisco, N.Y., to San Francisco within 40-some hours, or else will forfeit his chance to compete in the DeLeon — and his opportunity to snare the million-dollar, winner-take-all prize.
Joining Tobey on his journey is Julia (British actress Imogen Poots), a sharp-witted, savvy agent for a jillionaire car connoisseur. Not surprisingly, a romantic twist is subtly layered in, but in a way that isn’t phony or contrived.
While Paul is solid in the Tobey Marshall role — and quite believable as both a terrific racer and mechanical whiz — his nemesis, played by Dominic Cooper as the evil, wealthy ex-NASCAR driver Dino Brewster, comes across as almost a cartoon version of the classic villain. It’s a shame that Paul didn’t have a stronger character to compete against here.
That said, the rest of the cast — primarily Tobey Marshall’s racing team supporters — are fun to watch. Scott Mescudi is hilarious as the daredevil pilot who helps Tobey dodge the cops from aloft, and Rami Malek as the brainiac member of the team is equally charming (his nude stunt is especially funny).
However, this is a film you want to see for the racing, and in that sense it doesn’t disappoint. The road action helps overcome the pretty predicable plot and sometimes pedestrian acting. After all, this is about the need to go fast — especially if you’re lucky enough to be at the wheel of a million-dollar racecar.