Film Review: Need For Speed

by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots. Directed by Scott Waugh.

Start your engines. We have a new contender for worst film of the year.

Back when I was in primary school, I was fortunate enough one Christmas to receive a Sony PlayStation. Not a PS2 or PS3 – heck, it wasn’t even a slimline PSone. This was the original chunky grey, brick console. The two most worn games in our household were Crash Bandicoot and Need for Speed. No matter how much I played the latter with all of its car racing fun, I would always end up going off the side of the road, flipping, or losing to my more skilled counterparts.

After the success of the Fast & Furious franchise, there’s no doubt that a film adaptation of the Need for Speed game(s) was a no-brainer for Touchstone Pictures. But my word, this film is just the pits. It aims high but fails miserably, resulting in – excuse the pun – a car crash of a film.

Tobey Marshall (Paul) is a broke former race car driver living in New York. By night, he and his mates earn some extra cash on the side by competing in dangerous street races. I won’t go into detail into the plot because it’s extremely thin at some points and unnecessarily detailed at others, but Tobey loses someone he loves (in the middle of a street race, no less) and spends the majority of the film trying to make things right by travelling across the US with rich Brit Julia (Poots), and against the clock, to compete in a winner-takes-all race in San Francisco organised by mogul DJ Monarch (Michael Keaton), only ever seen via webcam. It’s all ridiculously unbelievable, raises more questions than it answers, and motivations for actions are never developed properly.

There are some excellent car stunts in this film, but rarely is the action believable. Tobey is broke but he can afford to have a friend fly in a plane to give him tips on traffic flow. That same guy manages to wrangle news and army helicopters for the same purpose. And Tobey and Julia manage to road trip across the US without any real signs of fatigue – not a great endorsement to viewers. The acting is sub-par. Lead Paul spends most of the movie either mumbling or omitting a steely gaze into the distance.

The biggest problem with Need for Speed is that none of the characters are likeable. In fact, I found myself feeling angry at points at their reckless decisions in the way they drive. I realise this is a movie, but were it real life there would be lives lost for the sake of a cheap thrill. And the characters feel no remorse for their actions. Tobey is placed in jail for two years as a result of his driving, but as soon as he gets out he does drives in the same reckless way again. And again. He is unrepentant for his actions. The cops chase him across the US (rightly so) and because there’s no real grander selfless purpose to his actions, we the viewer agrees that he deserves to be caught.

As ridiculous as Tobey’s actions may seem, I think it’s a reflection of how we often choose to live. We can be unrepentant of our sin, but if we call ourselves followers of Jesus then we need to take our sin seriously. The state of our hearts is revealed in the way we live. In Luke 3:8, Jesus commands the crowds to ‘produce fruit consistent with repentance.’

If we are truly sorry for our sinful actions, then we will have remorse and choose to live God’s way. Tobey was obviously unrepentant and this is seen in the way he drives. He even tries to take actions into his own hands and seeks revenge. We need to cling to the cross, allow the Spirit to change our behaviour, and trust that God is a just judge.

Need for Speed is a crazy yet dull ride and one that isn’t really worth your time. It’s getting my lowest score of 2014 so far – one-and-a-half stars out of five.

Need For Speed is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download.

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