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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Need for Speed' is inferior knockoff of 'Fast and Furious'

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Aaron Paul stars as Tobey Marshall in “Need for Speed.” (Photo: DreamWorks)

Need for Speed

(PG-13)

1 star out of 4 stars

The first of many questions that come to mind regarding this movie isn’t why was it made, but why wasn’t it made sooner?

With a franchise that has pulled in more than $2 billion worldwide (“The Fast & the Furious”), and shows no signs of slowing down, why on earth didn’t another studio crank out an inferior knockoff years ago? It’s not like car chase movies are heavily dependent on plot; all you need are muscle cars, characters that are prettier than they are smart and a bevy of ace stunt drivers. What’s the problem?

The good news for “F&F” fans is that “NFS” is more of the same and then some — and it’s in 3-D! Your valuable grey matter won’t be called on to figure out a complex story and there’s no silly character development to sift through. On the downside, the babe factor is low and the only two that dare to speak do so with most of their clothes on, but they are hot (or, hot-ish)! The guy characters are aren’t exactly “F&F” ripped (unless you count Aaron Paul’s abs), but they all come with the requisite two-day stubble that lets you know they are dangerous and could double as fashion models.

For those who wouldn’t see a “F&F” movie on a bet — let’s call them fans of the TV show “Breaking Bad” — you will be monumentally disappointed; that is unless you’re going solely to get a gander at Paul’s abs, those sky blue peepers and his perfect teeth. There are some who will say — with absolute assurance — that going from one of the most respected and loved shows in the history of television to a brain-dead action flick was an unwise career choice and a major artistic backslide. With all due respect, they are wrong.

Even though Paul won a slew of Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG and Saturn awards while playing a meth dealer on “Breaking Bad,” he was a supporting character, the guy behind the guy, the warm-up act, if you will. Here, he is the lead, the star, the main attraction, the head honcho and you can bet he’s making far more than the $150K per “BB” episode. In the great scheme of things, Paul made the right move. He can do a couple more of these while taking the occasional “respectable” gig in-between and emerge as a very wealthy and relatively young man. He might even be able to eventually regain the respect from his peers that will be lost as of today.

Trying, without much success, to deliver a hybrid of Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and Michael Madsen, Paul stars as Tobey, the son of a recently deceased racing legend who is looking for fame in his own right. The garage he inherited from Dad is on shaky financial ground and he tries to make ends meet by doing the “F&F” illegal street racing thing but would rather get the big bucks in another illegal race organized annually by an obnoxious shock web personality played by Michael Keaton.

Tobey gets his chance to get in the black when the dastardly Dino (Dominic Cooper) offers him and his grease monkeys major coin if they can build an unfinished Shelby Mustang. To make him more unlikable the filmmakers also have Dino dating Tobey’s ex-girlfriend. The cad.

At this point we’re about 30 minutes in and stunt man-turned-director Scott Waugh and screenwriting brothers George and John Gatins aren’t doing anything we haven’t already seen many times before but they’re not embarrassing themselves either. Then in less than two minutes, someone is dead, Tobey’s in jail and the wheels of the wobbly plot literally and figuratively fly off of the rails. Nothing that happens thereafter — not a single second of it — makes anything close to sense.

In a mad dash to make it to Keaton’s race, Tobey and his crew defy many laws of physics and one of his boys steals a series of aircraft without anyone appearing to notice or care. Police from coast to coast are portrayed as inept buffoons, people survive fire-engulfed crashes with only minor injuries and (go figure) it all ends with the promise of a sequel.

One shouldn’t expect much from a movie that is based on a video game but really, does it have to be this dumb, loud and mind-numbing? Any and all of the “F&F” installments play out like Shakespeare in comparison to “NFS” and at a torturous 130 minutes, it’s longer than many Oscar-nominated dramas from last year. (DreamWorks)