Starring: Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper
Directed by: Scott Waugh (“Act of Valor”)
Written by: George Gatins (debut)

Soon after actor Paul Walker’s tragic death in a car accident this past November, many people wondered what the future of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise would be. Beyond the obvious logistics of how the series would carry on, fans wondered how they would get around making a film and telling a story that so heavily involved dangerous driving, the very same thing that took Walker’s life. While the next installment of “Fast and the Furious” isn’t slated until next year, the loose video game adaptation “Need For Speed” is the first test to see how the car racing/driving genre fares in the wake of the passing of one of it’s biggest stars.

After being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, mechanic and amateur car racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) gets out of jail and decides to get back at the man who framed him, professional driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). To do this, Tobey must drive cross-country to get the attention of a man who runs an underground race in order to gain entry to this exclusive competition where he can get revenge on his archenemy.

From a story perspective, “Need For Speed” stumbles right out of the gate by introducing Tobey’s rivalry with Dino without giving any back-story or reason to become invested.  This kicks off a series of events that is meant to pull at the heartstrings and give Tobey his motivation, yet can be seen from a mile away. From there the film begins its revenge plot by way of a wildly generic screenplay. Similar to the “Fast and Furious” films, “Need For Speed” spends time around a crew of fellow mechanics and drivers that aid Tobey in his cross-country trip. Unfortunately, these are all characters who themselves are also generic and add nothing but a means to push the story forward and spew cheesy, inane dialogue. For his performance, Paul isn’t given much to work with in Tobey. He’s the “strong and silent” type who is hellbent on revenge and reluctantly bringing car broker Julia (Imogen Poots) along from the ride. Aside from a terribly written introduction to her character, Poots is probably the most enjoyable character to watch and her scenes with Paul become better as the film carries on.

Aside from a mess of a story, the main draw to “Need For Speed” is obviously its action sequences. Admittedly, there is some pretty neat stunt driving and coordination, including one wild scene involving a car and a cliff. But mostly, the film spends most of its time glorifying completely reckless driving all in an often obnoxiously loud presentation.

More to that point, there is even a scene of Tobey driving stupidly in an effort to “scare” Julia from wanting to ride with him. To do this, and with assistance from a friend in a helicopter, Tobey speeds his way through city streets, zigging and zagging, driving purposely on the wrong side of the road and leaving mass destruction in his wake. Coupled with some fiery car crashes that are eerily similar to the images associated with the wreck that took Walker’s life, it will be very interesting to see how audiences react to this film now that one of the actors who popularized the genre has fallen victim to the very same thing he made popular in a unbelievably cruel twist of life imitating art. But any and all of that aside, “Need For Speed” is just a bad movie. It’s noisy, overlong and features a banal screenplay and characters. For his first performance after his amazing and nuanced role as Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad,” Paul deserves much better.

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