Lite on story and character development, Need for Speed is not good.
Though the actors do their best. Aaron Paul (Tobey Marshall), Dominic Cooper (Dino Brewster), Imogen Poots (Julia Maddon), Scott Mescudi (Benny) and Rami Malek (Finn) are not special, per se, but each of them does enough to occasionally rise above the silly material and, at the very least, keep our attention.
Some of the race scenes do the same, especially those at the beginning of the film. In the initial sequences, director Scott Waugh keeps the focus on Tobey (Paul) and Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), even as he emphasizes the crazed speeds these men drive. It is a strategy that works well, that keeps us interested in the characters, at least for a time.
But the races get less interesting as the film progresses, partially because they become repetitive, and mostly thanks to increasing ridiculousness. A multi-million dollar vehicle suffering zero damage as it’s air-lifted by a military helicopter with a heavy weight chain, even as both travel approximately one-hundred miles per hour? Here it’s possible.
That isn’t the worst race, however, because the finale has so many cliches: a school bus getting in the way; police mindlessly risking lives and property damage by taking unnecessary risks; a protagonist demonstrating humanity even as he accomplishes his final revenge; a villain so stupid he doesn’t destroy the only evidence that can implicate him in a serious crime and so arrogant that he keeps easily accessible records of the evidence’s whereabouts.
And worst of all? An over-the-top commentator, here named Monarch (Michael Keaton), giving constant (loud) explanation of what’s happening.
In fact, Monarch might be Need for Speed’s biggest flaw. Waugh and writer George Gatins never explain or integrate this crazed observer of dangerous street racing. Michael Keaton’s ham-fisted performance doesn’t help either.
The romance between Tobey and Julia is equally forced, despite Paul and Potts’ best efforts. No matter the actors’ chemistry, Julia is written so poorly that she is unrelatable.
All of which is to say: Need for Speed has committed performances and a certain excitement, but it still lacks merit. Avoid it.