To get any enjoyment out of Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed, understand one thing: It’s dumb as hell. It’s five stars worth of dumb, which, by itself, isn’t always a problem. I don’t always mean “dumb” in a pejorative sense. Some of my favorite moviegoing memories have resulted from imminently dumb movies. Dumb can be fun, and at its basest level, fun is the point of cinema. So while Need for Speed is occasionally dumb enough to be simply entertaining, it also wants to be taken seriously. This is a problem. Occasionally, the movie has the right idea, especially when it attempts to be little else than a throwback to the crime movies and car chases of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Director Waugh, who’s mostly worked in Hollywood as a stuntman, has an obvious appreciation for this kind of cinematic thrill ride. We see Peter Yates’ Bullitt (1968) being played at a drive-in, and numerous stuntmen make cameos throughout the film. In this way, Need for Speed is a bit loving, and if it had stuck to the simple homage formula, then we might have had something.
Instead, Need for Speed decided to have a plot. The problem is the economy of it all. The gist of the movie — small-time racer (Aaron Paul) framed for the murder of his best friend (Harrison Gilbertson) sets out to prove his innocence — takes about 40 minutes just to set up. The movie then wanders around some, occasionally taking supposedly surprising twists that are so telegraphed they should be covered in neon lights and shooting fireworks. In keeping with its dumbness, none of it makes sense, and each character acts in the most obtuse, oblivious way possible.
Not helping things is Paul, who spends the movie looking sullen and furrowing his brow or getting into a lot of hoary, vein-popping pyrotechnics. If this movie is any indication, his post-Breaking Bad film career is looking shaky. Ideally, the plot is just an excuse to hop from one white knuckle car stunt to the next, but the whole thing is overstuffed (and at 130 minutes, greatly overstays its welcome). It’s continually bogged down in side trips, a bit of man-child comic relief (which isn’t as endearing as the movie wants it to be) and a few too many set pieces that go on too long. Car stunts are inherently cinematic, but the most memorable ones in movie history are often single events that mark a climax. With Need for Speed, the stunts happen so often they become numbing. Those few times the movie hits and manages to mix the dumb with the fun are short-lived and are eventually buried underneath a pile of sound, fury and mediocrity. Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language.
Playing at Carmike 10, Regal Biltmore Grande.