Need for Speed

Mar 16, 2014

Formulaic video-game adaptation.

Need for Speed

Grade: C-

Director: Scott Waugh (Act of Valor)

Screenplay: George Gatins

Cast: Aaron Paul (The Last House on the Left), Dominic Cooper (My Week with Marilyn)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 130 min.

by John DeSando

“Those who wage war against me, shall perish. I will find strength, find guidance, and I will triumph.” Tobey Marshal (Aaron Paul)

The singular triumph of Need for Speed may be its lack of computer graphics, at least as far as I can tell. Lead Aaron Paul spent time learning the basics of formula racing to resemble a blue collar kid from Mt. Kisco, N.Y. who can drive a mean muscle car without a lap top.

So if, like me, you are not overly attracted to Fast-and-Furious-like movies, where heavy duty cars do the heavy acting lifting, Need for Speed may charm you with its realistic driving, beautiful cars like a Shelby Mustang, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, oodles of clichés such as bad guy Dino (Dominic Cooper) dark haired and good guy Tobey (Paul) blonde, and ineffectual cops—well, you know the drill.

Need for Speed is a mildly entertaining action thriller that director Scott Waugh takes through the streets of Detroit and the Western deserts with the same confidence he showed in another CGI-deficient actioner, Act of Valor. The chase scenes, and rest assured they are most of the film, are as impressive as any other out there in video or screen. Need for Speed is based on a 20 video-game series and not a bad adaptation, if my geeky friends are correct.

If there is so much action, what about characterization? That takes a back seat in this ride, with the formula for cheap romance and buddy warmth readymade.  Standing out from all the pretty boys and girls, however, is the-less-than pretty Michael Keaton as Monarch, impresario of the mythic De Leon race, broadcasting in seclusion with witty put downs while he revs up interest in his race. Keaton is a blessing for anyone interested in more than super stunts and stunted relationships.

It’s a bad time of year for good movies, unless you’re a Wes Anderson fan (The Grand Budapest Hotel), so relax, lower your expectations, and enjoy a video game on a very big screen.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at