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Originally published Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 12:05 AM

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‘Need for Speed’: Visions of better films come fast & furious

A one-star review of “Need for Speed,” an unbelievable picture that tries to duplicate the formula of the “Fast & Furious” franchise.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 1 stars

‘Need for Speed,’ with Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton. Directed by Scott Waugh, from a screenplay by George Gatins. 124 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and some crude language. Several theaters.

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Universal Pictures has had a good, long run with its “Fast & Furious” franchise, raking in, oh, around a kajillion dollars in box-office lucre since debuting the pedal-to-the-metal series back in 2001.

This has not escaped the notice of other Hollywood players. What’s a rival studio to do?

In the case of DreamWorks Pictures, the answer is: Send in the clone.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome “Need for Speed.”

The “F&F” movies have hot cars tearing through the countryside in illegal street races. Likewise “Need for Speed.”

“F&F” has a grumbly voiced hero. Meet “Need for Speed’s” Tobey Marshall (“Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul), a man with gravel on his vocal cords. But with way more hair than Vin Diesel.

“F&F” has a core cadre of young multiethnic characters. Ditto “Need for Speed.”

“F&F”: wild stunts. “Need for Speed”: See my tires. Watch them smoke.

“F&F” has inspired a series of video games. “Need for Speed” was inspired by a video game.

One key difference: The “Fast & Furious” movies, though wildly improbable in their plotting, retain some small connection to reality. “Need for Speed” floats in some kind of alternate universe, untethered to the world as we know it.

The time: present day. The setting: a drive-in theater where a rowdy crowd of young folks is grooving on “Bullitt.” Excuse me? A drive-in? Playing “Bullitt”? Do the young today even know who Steve McQueen was? Or what a drive-in is? Or care?

Later, there’s a race through the night streets of a small town. On those streets there are no vehicles other than the racers. On the sidewalks there are no people. And cops? Nowhere to be seen.

In fact, until near the end of the picture, law enforcement is largely notable for its absence from the proceedings. It’s as though they’re heeding the picture’s Greek-chorus figure, an underground-race promoter maniacally played by Michael Keaton, who declares, “Racers should race. Cops should eat doughnuts.”

The plot has Tobey driving a super souped-up megabucks Mustang from New York to California. He’s got 45 hours to make the cross-country trip. Speed limits? He don’t heed no stinking speed limits.

Aficionados of vroom-vroom cinema will recognize that scenario as being a ripoff of 1971’s “Vanishing Point.”

Along the way, Tobey pilots the Mustang off a cliff “Thelma & Louise” style. (Relax. He doesn’t die.)

Hmmm. “Bullitt,” “Vanishing Point,” Thelma & Louise.” Note to director Scott Waugh and writer George Gatins: You do your movie no favors by constantly reminding the audience of the much better pictures that inspired your own.

Soren Andersen:

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