Video game movies have struggled to find a foothold in the blockbuster market. You’ve got the modest successes – Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil – to the downright atrocious. These are your Uwe Boll’s (Far Cry, BloodRayne, In the Name of the King… and so on), the original Super Mario Bros. disaster and the majority of the Resident Evil sequels. The question is, therefore, how does Walt Disney’s attempt to bring gamers’ burnt-rubber favourite Need for Speed to the super screen fair?
Fortunately for us, the answer is not bad. Not bad at all. Need for Speed eschews the unbelievable CG-enhanced stunts of the Fast & Furious series for rather more impressive, yet still totally unbelievable, practical effects. Much has been made of the fact that the film’s stunts were created not in computers but with real vehicles and drivers (the actors had extensive driver training in order to perform the adrenaline-pumping stunts themselves). This is not to be underestimated as it affords the movie’s numerous exciting chase sequences with a weight and tangibility that its competitors lack.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still all filtered through the lens of video-gamey, over-the-top action; Need for Speed is not a film to be taken seriously. Some might call it so bad it’s good, but I confess to having a surprisingly fun time with it. At the very least director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) deserves respect for doing just about everything for real in an age when it’s often hard to spot the flesh on screen. The only obvious evidence of computer tampering is the occasional fireball that erupts when certain vehicles meet their explosive end.
The narrative itself is perhaps best summed up by the Monarch (Michael Keaton), the mysterious host of an underground race worth millions, who broadcasts on his soapbox: “Supernatural mustangs, personal vendettas… I like it!” Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul is Tobey Marshall, a mechanic framed by mega-douche Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) for the manslaughter of a close friend. Finally released from prison, Marshall swears revenge against Dino and uses the Monarch’s secret race as a means to an end. Imogen Poots’ Julia spices things up a bit as an unwanted tag-along, while Scott Mescudi adds levity as a pilot who constantly steals different modes of aerial transportation.
If there’s a flaw it’s that it’s too long. One of the many races could have been scrapped to make things a bit tighter, but overall I didn’t mind. Need for Speed offers more than what you’d probably expect for a video game series based on car racing, and ought to be given a chance by the sceptical. It’s the kind of movie that you switch your brain off to, kick back and enjoy – and sometimes that exactly what you need!
One of the better video game adaptations out there, Need for Speed kills it with its practical effects and thrilling supercar racing.