Pete has constant visions of the future. Sure people mock him but not ambitious street race driver and car builder Tobey Marshall. Tobey listens to every vision and always protects his little buddy from the world’s hostility. “He’s like a little brother to me,” he explains about Pete in the first minutes of “Need for Speed,” opening Friday
Anyone who has ever seen a movie – or, for that matter, watched television – knows right then and there that Pete’s a goner and soon. Muerto. Defunct. Kaput. All that.
And, sure enough, just a few minutes later, Pete’s bumper is crashed in a race by the movie’s villain Dino Webster (Dominic Cooper) and his 200-plus mph supercar goes flying through the air to the kid’s doom.
This, I assure you, is no spoiler about this film based on an extremely popular video game. It happens very early in the film and the rest of the plot is about our hero and his buddies trying to exact vengeance.
Why I mention it so early is this: Harrison Gilbertson, the young towhead actor who plays Pete, looks as if he could have been the fresh-faced son of the late Paul Walker, the star of the hugely successful “Fast and Furious” movies about street racing who died when his Porsche went too fast on city streets and crashed.
Twenty years separate the two actors, but it stands to reason that if Walker had gotten into the begetting business early in life, he could have been the kid’s father.
This is one star-crossed movie. There’s almost no way to rank such things, but “Need for Speed” is certainly the unluckiest film in recent memory. No matter how popular the video game may be, it’s a bit hard to start a street race off in moviehouses when the star of the most successful series about illegal street racing died in a supercar doing on Los Angeles streets what no one should ever do on Los Angeles streets.
“Need for Speed,” otherwise, could have been a serious bid for movie stardom for Aaron Paul, an actor who would never have been the top name on a movie cast list if he hadn’t made such a strong impression for so many years on “Breaking Bad,” which was many people’s idea of the best show on TV.
Paul is no one’s idea of an action movie star. He looks like the grown-up version of the kid whose project usually won the high school science fair. Even so, with his glower and low-pitched husky growl in “Need for Speed,” he might have hit something like the big time without the terrible life precedent of Walker’s death.
So unlucky is this movie, in fact, that even its throwaway jokes are turned into clumsy anachronisms by events. There’s a scene where all the blue-collar street racing buddies are in a bar trying, as a guys will do, to pick up girls. One of their likely female targets starts to talk and reveals a British accent. To ingratiate himself with her, one of the guys rushes to assure her “I really like Piers Morgan.” Unfortunately, Morgan has eight toes out the door as a CNN talk show host.
Is this star-crossed fantasy, then, hugely unlucky or, in fact, quickly working out its own karma? You be the judge.
In another early scene, all these hotshot street racers make some big jokes about crashing into the full shopping cart of a homeless man whose belongings are spilled all over the highway. Nothing funnier to them than ruining the lives of the homeless. A movie that piles up automotive mayhem with contempt for lives lost in exploding cars is not exactly on the side of the angels, you know?
In other words, here is a movie from a video game in which people are just lights on a grid and not human beings. Unless, of course, they’re considered OK by the inner core of street race prodigies.
All of this movie’s collisions with misfortune are actually too bad because, in a minimal action way, the stunts are pretty good and it’s mildly entertaining.
That will happen when you’ve got some of the hottest looking supercars anywhere – including for automotive purists, the uber-Mustang Carrol Shelby was supposedly working on for Ford when he died. We’re talking about utterly amazing vehicles whose perfectly tuned motors have a thunderous music unlike anything else in the known world.
We’re talking about Bugattis, McLarens, Lamborghinis etc. – some of the most astonishing conveyances ever put on roadways. Car people will go a bit nuts.
Will our hero win the Big Race and avenge Pete’s death? Will he hook up with his gorgeous Brit co-driver played by Imogen Poots? Will Michael Keaton ever get a major role again after “Batman”? Will “Need for Speed” race past the current box office big shots?
Luck, as I said, is not with this movie.
As I walked out into the parking lot from the screening, the fellow in front of me got into his unprepossessing car and started his engine. The car roared with that kind of souped-up automotive sound that indicates a car meant to go way past 120 mph.
Then, that opening roar turned into deafening supercar thunder, as he revved his engine to maximum RPMs, just to remind himself what he had under his own hood.
His comment on the movie, no doubt.
Need for Speed
Starring: Aaron Paul, Michael Keaton, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots
Director: Scott Waugh
Running time: 130 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for language and intense street race action.
The Lowdown: Ambitious street race driver and car builder sets out to avenge his friend’s death in a big race called the DeLeon.