Label: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Release Date: August 5, 2014
Buy at Best Buy
Film: D+ / Video: A- / Audio: A- / Extras: B
Aaron Paul drove away (literally) from Breaking Bad as something of a breakout star, unlike the more well-known Bryan Cranston. In his first new project after that excellent AMC series, Paul got back into a car to race for his life; if only the film was nearly as inspired in its storytelling or characters as it is in crafting technically cool car chases. Need for Speed does not want for action in its 130-minute running time, but it also doesn’t want for a lackluster ensemble of characters or a tired, almost comically familiar story. If you can try to separate yourself from the context of each sequence, the action’s fairly exciting. But throughout, Need for Speed loses any steam as soon as its characters start talking.
The plot, wherein Paul plays Tobey, a top racer out for revenge against an old rival for framing him for the murder of his protégé, is standard-issue to the point of parody. (Said protégé is the very image of innocence, all the way to being named Little Pete.) It’s all just an excuse for Tobey to partner up with a British car buyer (Imogen Poots) to drive cross-country to get in line for a high-end race created by a mysterious legend of the business (Michael Keaton, who manages to be both wildly eccentric and painfully wasted). Though Paul is a suitable action lead and pulls off the requisite brooding and emotional scarring Tobey needs to display throughout, he’s all too often happy to leads cops on a merry chase all for fun. That kind of inconsistent characterization—wouldn’t a guy who’s heartbroken over his part in an innocent man’s vehicular death not want to put other bystanders’ lives in danger?—is part of why this ends up being such a slog to sit through.
As with the neverending Fast and Furious series, the racing sequences are staged and filmed solidly; Need for Speed almost has the edge, simply in terms of eschewing CGI at all times in favor of real cars and real drivers. And just like the Fast and Furious series, there’s a generic sense of “family above all,” but somehow, amazingly, F&F has a charm that this hopeful (and failed) start to a franchise is lacking. Aaron Paul is an excellent young actor, and he could easily headline a great action film in the years to come. But Need for Speed isn’t that film.
One of the extras on this disc focuses specifically on the sound of Need for Speed, and how the crew attempted to overcome the challenge of capturing the unique aural quality of each car in the film. So it stands to reason that the sound on this disc should be so crisp, it’s almost ear-splitting. (In a good way.) And indeed, both the audio and video quality of the disc are impressive, presenting the cross-country race as well as the colorful vehicles sprinting across the roads of America in a clear, vivid, and nearly deafening fashion.
If there’s one message to take away from the handful of extras on the Need for Speed disc, it’s that director Scott Waugh wanted to make an authentic car movie, harking back to the days of Bullitt and Vanishing Point, both of which he name-checks throughout interviews and in the commentary. Hell, the phrase “authentic car movie” is in one of the extras’ titles. He’s proud (and rightfully so) that the various car chases and crashes were done with real stunt performers, not CGI. As such, most of the extras walk specifically through the technical side of the film, from the 10-minute “Capturing Speed” featurette to the aforementioned supplement focusing on the sound and score of the picture. Waugh’s also happy to remind any viewer how closely connected he was to the crew, specifically members of the stunt team with whom he grew up as a kid.
The family-affair vibe is equally present on the feature-length commentary, with Waugh and Paul. There are a few tidbits of minor intrigue sprinkled throughout—Paul’s first day on the set came mere hours after his last day of shooting on the final season of Breaking Bad—but aside from Waugh’s boundless enthusiasm, all that’s worth noting are his lofty, and frequently baffling, aims. For example: Michael Keaton’s character, Monarch, is so mysterious that a) we never see him leave his home office and b) we never know where that office is located. Waugh compares this true stumper to not knowing what’s inside the glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction. (Never mind that Tarantino was paying homage to Kiss Me Deadly.) The comparisons don’t end there, as Waugh argues that the relationship between Paul and Poots in the film is akin to that of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally… (A polite notion, but an incorrect one by a long shot.) From a technical standpoint, gearheads may be curious for more details on how Need for Speed was created, but others can steer clear of the commentary.
The Fast and Furious wannabe Need for Speed gets a decent single-disc Blu-ray release that remains for true car lovers only.