Feature film adaptations of video game properties have been fertile ground for Hollywood since 1993's Super Mario Bros. With the loose exception of a few, however, including the initial Resident Evil and The Prince of Persia, they're almost always disappointing. So my only surprise in hearing that Electronic Art's Need for Speed franchise was making its way to the big screen was how long it took to happen. So imagine my even bigger surprise when it turns out to be quite a decent film in its own right.
When ex-racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is offered a deal by arch-nemesis Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) that will secure the financial future of his near bankrupt garage business, Marshall reluctantly accepts the offer.
When the deal inevitably goes sour with Marshall framed and behind bars for the manslaughter of his friend and worker Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), he jumps at the opportunity to not only get back in the racing game but also clear his name. However, to do so, he'll need the help of his friends, including car dealer Julia (Imogen Poots), and he'll need to be prepared to break more than a few laws in the process.
Muscling in on territory seemingly cornered by the Fast and the Furious franchise, as it turns out, Need for Speed features precious little in common with the gaming franchise short of the property's name recognition and, y'know, the cars themselves.
But this has freed up the filmmakers to fully reimagine the world without the shackles of unnecessary fan service and pre-established characters. To this end, they've created a fun story that I believe not only captures the fun of the game series but also provides enough of a dramatic edge to be taken somewhat seriously.
If anyone has caught more than a few minutes of Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, his impressive acting chops will come as no surprise. Whilst the material here doesn't stack up to the impressively slow burning Breaking Bad scripts, he does the best he can with the pages, carving out a wholly believable figure under pressure.
Suitably impressive too is Imogen Poots as the front seat driver who becomes increasingly charming (and attractive) as the film progresses. The couple has palpable chemistry together, making it very hard to not root for the duo as the plot thickens.
Still, the real star of the Need for Speed is the racing sequences themselves, and they are truly impressive--refreshingly far more realistic than that offered by that other racing franchise.
Even more remarkable is the apparent fact that no computer graphics were employed in their visualization. Make no mistake, this is old school car racing thrills and spills that channel the likes of classics like Smokey and the Bandit and Bullitt, both of which are referenced throughout, by no coincidence, I'm sure.