Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is a mechanic who owns his father's garage in the state of New York and employs a selection of his best friends to work there, but what he hasn't told them is money is getting tight. What he would give to get a huge payday, or to win a cross-country road race with a massive prize at the end of it such as the illegal ones the video podcast presenter Monarch (Michael Keaton) stages, but he would need a special invite to one of those, a lot like his old rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) gets. Tobey contents himself with winning amateur but illegal street races at which he has demonstrated his skill behind the wheel, but what if Dino had a proposition for him? One with that cash he really needs in abundance?
Films based on computer games are almost invariably looked down on by audiences and critics alike, either because the film buffs don't see the point in restaging a game or because the gamers seriously doubt the movie experience could match that of actually playing. As such, these efforts are rightly considered the poor relations of the gaming world, a cynical cash-in on a recognisable franchise that are more often than not insultingly simple-minded when it tries to understand what made the source special to its fans. Besides, when you're dealing with a film, different rules do indeed apply, which was why the racing game adaptation Need for Speed received so much flak.
It was all very well sending a bunch of anonymous drivers crashing off the road when you were gaming, the emotional or moral concerns were not as relevant (though it could be argued they should be, the fact remained these were collections of pixels exploding on the screen), yet in a movie the hero couldn't be seen to be causing actual harm to innocent bystanders for fear of utterly losing sympathy. Director Scott Waugh and his team seemed to have considered this, however, as after Tobey rampages through the streets and roads after Dino in fancy sports cars, the third member of the race is Tobey's pal Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), and he really feels what it's like to lose a loved one to an accident when Pete is forced off the road in a ball of flame.
You would think this would bring home the severity of the consequences of dangerous driving, and Tobey certainly has a lot of time to mull this over when he is sentenced for killing Pete to a two year stretch, but he's really nursing his grudge against Dino: it was the leather-jacketed bad boy who was truly responsible, and has gotten rid of the car that he was behind the wheel of, so there's no evidence to convict him. Once Tobey is out, he is a changed man, or he's supposed to be - fans of Paul in TV's Breaking Bad will be well aware of his propensity for looking intense - but now he's dead set on winning a Monarch race in the car he customised for Dino to sell a couple of years ago. It is here where Need for Speed turns into a road movie, much like the cult racing flicks of the nineteen-seventies used to be.
Everyone here boasted of how they were not going to implement lots of computer graphics to enhance the action so they could keep it real with as many genuine stunts as possible, and once you got over the way even the heroes flirt with immorality all for the sake of the next fix of the speed junkie, you may be forced to agree Waugh's visuals contained a degree more heft than simply watching those pixels zoom about, ironic when that was the appeal of the original game. Paul had two love interests, one Dakota Johnson as his ex and Dino's current girlfriend, and the Englishwoman who delivers the car (this was a co-production between the US and UK as well as Ireland and the Philippines, though it looks American through and through), she being played by Imogen Poots who added a dash of personality to what was a bit of a boy's club. In truth, though this was nothing special, you couldn't accuse it of not living up to its promises: you wanted loads of chases and stunts in a tribute to the golden age of the driving movie with a "who cares?" plot, and that's what you got, no more, no less. Music by Nathan Furst.