You know how you used to think that all movies based on video games suck (excepting, of course, 1975's intense psychosexual thriller Pong)? Well, you're still right. Need for Speed, though it tries very hard, is a movie that assumes car-lovers are idiots. And, as a car-lover and (rarely) occasional non-idiot, I'm sick of that.
While I'll try not to really spoil huge plot points for you, I will give you this one spoiler for the movie: I found it to be deeply, deeply stupid. Sure, there's lots of fun cars in it and some pleasingly absurd driving, but none of that can make up for the clichéd, hackneyed plot and characters you've seen a billion times before.
Also, I get that in movies part of the deal as a viewer is that there is some suspension of disbelief. That deal, however, can be abused, and Need for Speed slaps that unspoken agreement around like it caught it with its wife. The movie starts with an illegal, nighttime street race (which does have a lovely old Torino) in a sleepy northeastern town, just outside a big city. That race originates from a drive-in theater that has been continually playing Bullitt since the late '60s. That's fine, I can accept all that. Even the improbable number of eye-meltingly hot girls that seem to have flocked there, or the sheer scale of the event. I accept it all.
Until the race starts. Then we see that the race is monitored by a wall of monitors that looks like something NORAD requested and had rejected for budgetary reasons. And I think all this equipment is stuck under a bridge or something. Since that level of illegal street race tech is clearly not enough, we then find that the whole race has an aerial spotter in a Cessna helping out the protagonist's team with traffic and route information from the air.
Are you fucking kidding me? An underground street race with air support? The ability for one of the characters to somehow just get access to airplanes and helicopters pretty much whenever the fuck he wants is a continuing theme throughout the movie, as well as flying them in ways that would normally close down a major city. It makes your belief-suspension glands hurt as they overproduce the hormone shuddupanddontaskitonin.
The race eventually makes its way into the city, where the driving is the sort of drifty, skiddy, jumpy, absurd mess we've seen before in these movies. It's here that we're really introduced to the main character, That Guy From Breaking Bad, his rival, his ex-girl, and his younger friend/little brother surrogate who's so naive and innocent you know he'll be dead soon.
The basic plot is one you've encountered before, again and again. Aaron Paul's character, Tobey Marshall, is one of those incredibly talented guys who works with his hands and does incredible things with cars in his own shop, yet somehow can't manage to make enough money to pay the mortgage on his shop. Tobey's old rival — the man who now is dating his ex — is a successful NASCAR driver and one-dimensional villain named Dino Brewster.
Brewster gets Tobey a much-needed job by having him finish construction on Carroll Shelby's last project before he died, which ends up becoming the Hero Car of the movie: that Mustang that Ford told some exciting lies about last year. How a little, cash-strapped shop in a small town managed to build a car with an entire set of custom electronics including a heads-up display that rivals an F-22 isn't clear, but they managed, somehow.
Without describing the entire movie, here's some key things that happen: that Mustang gets sold for 3 million, there's a celebratory and insane street race with three Koenigseggs, piloted by Dino, Tobey, and the kid who's going to die. Kid dies, Dino did it, Tobey gets framed and shipped to jail.
So, we have the standard revenge plot. To avenge his friend's death, Tobey decides that entering a super-rich guy super cars-only street race is the only way. This race is run by Michael Keaton's character, who's some sort of reclusive billionaire that does some online radio show thing listened to by, apparently, everyone, and he somehow knows every detail of Tobey's story and the rivalry with Dominic and the death of the kid and all that. Also, he — and absolutely everyone else in the movie — have internet connection speeds and computers from what must be 50 years in the future.
The revenge, of course, has to happen in this super-exclusive race called the DeLeon. The race itself makes no sense — the winner gets all the cars that entered the race, a potential stable-full of Ferraris and Veyrons and maybe a Koenigsegg or two — but since every car seems to get destroyed in the race, what's the payoff, exactly?
The sheer idiocy of the race actually hurts your brain. Why are they doing this on public roads, again? There's a scene with cars going 200 MPH barely missing a school bus, and there's nothing cool or interesting about the driving — it's just hyper-priveliged dipshits almost murdering 50 kids for no good reason.
The race is for crazy rich guys and they can't hire a track? Or go to the salt flats, or rent out a small town? Why are they doing this, again? The risk/reward of it all makes no sense. And, with the whole plot hinging on one man's anguish over losing a friend in an absurd street race, why isn't he remotely concerned about the dozens of people who would be at the very least gravely injured by the actions of the racers?
Seriously, there's more cops and other random motorists killed in the background of this thing than your average zombie movie and the obesity epidemic combined.
But you know, a high death toll I can deal with in a movie if the movie's actually good. I'd happily be swimming in the blood of innocents if the characters and dialog weren't so cringe-inducingly awful. The main female character (played by the hilariously-named Imogen Poots), for example. We meet her in a scene that's been played out so many times, in so many movies, that it may have acquired sentience at this point:
It's this: there's a car (or any technical thing, really), there's a guy, there's a girl. Girl mentions car. Guy talks to girl like she doesn't know anything about cars. Girl plays dumb. Guy's friend shows up, girl then spouts a solid minute of technobabble about the car showing she's a Big Expert. First guy looks like an ass. And, SCENE!
There's so much of this crap in the movie. The team of guys that make up Tobey's team is no better. There's a guy who's entire personality is that he has a toothpick in his mouth the whole time — a phenomenon I've only seen in movies — and there's a guy who manages to get naked for no good reason, and there's the guy who can magically acquire aircraft, and oh, man, it's just all so fucking stupid.
Over-the top stunts that piss you off because you know, fundamentally, Cars Don't Work Like That, dialog that your dog would roll his eyes at, and characters so thin runway models pin them on their thinspo walls. That's what this movie is.
If I sound a bit pissed, it's because I am. This movie shows what Hollywood thinks of gearheads: we're idiots. And we're not. The time has come for a movie about cars that isn't all the same tired plots, the same shitty dialog, the same stupidly overdone stunts. There was once a time when car-focused movies didn't have to pander to some assumed lowest-common denominator, and I would love to see that idea return.
I'm sure this movie will do just fine, and in the end no one will give a shit what I thought. That's fine. But I'm still going to secretly hope that someday, someone will decide to make a movie about cars without assuming that the audience is composed of chimps with drivers' licenses.
Oh, and I know I said I was going to try and keep spoilers to a minimum, but I'm going to give away the very end of the movie: it's a fucking 2015 Mustang commercial. I wish I was kidding.
So, if you want to go see Need for Speed, go and have fun. But make sure to tell the movie to fuck off for me.