Cinematic Releases: Need For Speed

Between its awful editing, terrible script, and predictability, Need For Speed is a clichéd, overlong mess.

"From Breaking Bad to this?

The reason the Fast and Furious films work so well is because there is a strong chemistry between the actors, who have witty dialogue to work with. The plot for the franchise is for the most part predictable, but the fast (and furious) pacing along with the well developed characters make them successful blockbusters. Need for Speed attempts to copy the series, but fails to comprehend its fundamental framework.

Most films are started in pre-production with a screenplay. In a screenplay, what is seen on film (action, movements, characters, locations, etc.) along with what is heard (dialogue, SFX, ambient noise sometimes, etc.) is written. First drafts are usually simple, have cliché-ridden dialogue, poorly constructed characters, and overlong scenes. Editing then occurs, where the dialogue is made to be better (meaning more interesting, unique, smart, or some combination of those things), characters are developed more convincingly, and scenes are tightened. It is relatively tough and can take awhile, but it is one of the most important aspects of a film, mostly due to the fact that the script is the framework for practically every other part of a film. It is made clear how necessary a properly edited/revised screenplay is in the case of Need for Speed, due to how amateurish it seems. Not only are there gargantuan numbers of clichés (“This time... it’s different,” “Let’s settle this behind the wheel,” “This isn’t just about racin’!”) but there are issues in every other conceivable way as well.

fast.....and furious!"
While there are some (very, VERY few) instances of actual wit, more often than not, the film relies on stereotypes, British racism (which I did not know was a thing before this film; I feel very strange typing that), and cultural references to draw laughs from the audience. Having a character mention ‘twerking’ and then proceed to later have the same character ‘twerk’ is neither witty nor original. The only thing that type of cultural reference does is date the film, so that in five years a young teen will watch it, not understand those types of ‘gags’ (I use the term loosely), and walk away from it confused. Other cheap laughs are drawn from pure randomness like a man stripping down naked in an office, or degrading women for their driving skills.

Another major mistake is how the writer, George Gatins, solely creates one-dimensional characters. Aaron Paul portrays Tobey Marshall, local bad boy racer who seeks revenge. Imogen Poots plays Julia Maddon, who is a woman and British. Harrison Gilbertson is Pete, the younger brother of Marshall’s ex-girlfriend (Marshal affectionately says about him, “He’s like a brother to me!”). Dominic Cooper plays Dino Brewster, the turtleneck wearing villain. All of them are written to be the most stereotypical version of their possible character as possible. The actors do what they can with their roles, but unfortunately, there isn’t enough they can do.

In the plays of Sophocles (and other ancient Greek playwrights) there is something called a ‘chorus.’ The job of a chorus is to relay to the audience exposition along with what they should be feeling at a given time. In that time, using a chorus in that manner made sense and it was an effective tool. In our time for a road-racing film, it is completely unnecessary to have someone explain the same information the audience has been told, shown, and told again. That is the sole purpose of Michael Keaton’s character, the Southern leader of a secret race called “Monarch”. Making matters worse, Gatins wrote the character to have ultra lengthy and close to incoherent monologues to explain this exposition. To his credit, Keaton really goes into character and does all he can with it, but he was still at the punch-in-the-face level of pointless.

The film is two hours and ten minutes. That is about forty minutes too long for a film about illegal road-racing, and is, quite frankly, inexcusable. While the writing is partially at fault here, most of the blame lies in the hands of the editors (one of which is the director, who, with his total of five editing credits, probably had a larger say in the final cut than Paul Rubell, who cut Collateral). The number of places that could have (and should have) been tightened are numerous. Keaton’s character could have been trimmed down quite a bit (fifteen minutes there), a few of the twenty minute races could have been shortened, the second-act cross-country adventure did not ned to be as lengthy as it was, lots of exposition could have been cut, forgotten subplots about the bank could have been cut out entirely, and that is just to start. Some of the jokes do not connect because the timing was not cut together just perfect enough to work, usually  clips lasting a beat or two longer than they should have been. For a film where the need is supposed to be speed, it was surprisingly slow-paced when it should not have been.

"Dude. I can stare so much
harder than you can......"
An aspect that was not completely awful was in the direction. The streets of the various cities that were traveled in were really beautifully captured. He utilizes the 3D surprisingly well, me not noticing it was used a lot of the time. The action sequences (while overlong) were not shot in that ‘shaky-cam’ style Paul Greengrass made famous. It allowed the audience to get caught up in the moment more, really feel to see everything happen in an interesting way. There were some errors, like some cities getting ridiculous establishing shots (NYC is first shown through a ferry-boat with “Manhattan Ferry” written in HUGE letters across it), or some shots being used in a repetitious manner (the first time Marshall looked down a street and there was a dolly zoom it was cool; not so much the second or third time). Generally though, it was well shot.

A personal gripe for me in a film is when music is not utilized in an appropriate way. Why? I am just really annoyed when a scene is playing something for laughs and there is overly dramatic music playing in the background. For the first fifteen-twenty minutes of Need for Speed, the score was ultra serious and ‘important’ sounding, while very little of what was happening on screen suggested that anything really was. The one scene I can remember not being annoyed by the music was in a hospital scene in the third act, which, coincidentally, felt like the only scene with any real heart in it.

It is clear the film is a rip off of the Fast and Furious franchise, and what is most unfortunate about it is that it does not understand what makes the series good. Not only is it suffering critically because of this, but I am certain it will suffer financially as well.

-Greg Dinskisk