Strap in for this joyride
NEED FOR SPEED (PG13)
Action/131 minutes/Opens today
If there's one place Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) can call home, it's behind the wheel of a really fast car.
When he's not competing on New York's underground street circuit to pay off his repair shop's mortgage, he shoots the breeze with buddies Joe (Ramon Rodriguez), Finn (Rami Malek), Benny (Scott Mescudi) and Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson).
Life is good for the honest mechanic - until his old enemy, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), challenges him to a race. When it turns deadly, Dino flees the scene, framing Tobey and getting him sent to prison.
Two years later, Tobey is released on parole and discovers that his rival is competing in a legendary illegal race called The De Leon, and he must get to San Francisco in 48 hours to take part.
With a beautiful Briton - Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots) - riding shotgun, Tobey gathers his crew and embarks on a cross-country trip to take down his nemesis and clear his name.
NEED For Speed is my favourite video game series of all time. I started out with Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit on CD-ROM 14 years ago, and have played all the subsequent titles except the Underground and Shift ones (for the record, Porsche Unleashed is the best).
So you can imagine my excitement - and trepidation - when it was announced that the racing series was going to be adapted into a feature film. Video game-based movies don't exactly have a great track record - think Doom (2005), Hitman (2007) or Max Payne (2008).
Thankfully, not only is Need For Speed a fitting tribute to one of Electronic Arts' most successful and beloved franchises, but it is also an awesome flick for adrenalin junkies and gearheads alike.
It helps that Scott Waugh is in the driver's seat; the director and former stuntman is a car aficionado. Paul claims "there's zero CGI in this film" and the cast reportedly performed several of the driving sequences themselves.
This insistence on real-life stunt work gives the film's insane set pieces - like a car leapfrogging over three lanes of traffic or a Cessna hurtling down a freeway inches off the ground - a raw and visceral feel. Every crash, explosion and barrel roll is wince-inducing, with none of that green-screen or shaky-cam nonsense.
Breaking Bad's Paul was originally considered for the role of Dino, the antagonist, but his casting against type paid off. He delivers a convincing performance as an all-American, working-class hero, albeit one with an F1 driver's skills. His vengeful speedster can be tough when he needs to be, but isn't afraid to shed a few tears during dramatic moments.
Poots' feisty love interest holds her own against Tobey, and their squabbles and misadventures are fun to watch. Another lively character is Mescudi's, who provides comic relief as a motormouth pilot flying various aircraft acquired through dubious means.
The transcontinental odyssey that Tobey and Julia undertake recalls that of Vanishing Point or Need For Speed: The Run in reverse. It takes on an almost mythical quality, as the pair run a gauntlet of reckless cops and bloodthirsty mercenaries after a bounty placed on their heads by Dino.
Waugh's America is an idealised one, filled with wild prairies, verdant redwood forests and drive-in theatres playing Steve McQueen's Bullitt. It is also one that is ridiculously treacherous, with petrol tankers, reversing trucks and a school bus filled with children among the many obstacles our heroes face.
Presiding over the spectacle like a one-man Greek chorus is The De Leon's organiser, shock jock The Monarch, played by Michael Keaton. "That's Tobey Marshall, riding the chariot of the gods," he gushes at one point, while describing the movie's hero car, a Ford Mustang based on last year's Shelby GT500.
And, good grief, the cars! To name a few, there's a Pontiac GTO, a Koenigsegg Agera R and a Bugatti Veyron, all of which have been featured in the games. I was disappointed, though, that the vehicular cast were mostly European and American models. A Subaru or Mitsubishi would've been sweet.
Also, the cops were outmatched in their wimpy Crown Vics and Tahoes. It would've been wicked if the celluloid fuzz had face-peeling rides, too, like their console brethren.
What's more, Dakota Johnson is wasted in a bit role as Dino's girlfriend and Tobey's former flame, in a love-triangle subplot that goes nowhere.
Still, it's easy to forgive the film's simplistic plot or archetypal characters when the action is this manic, the cinematography this sublime and the vehicles this fast. And, while the ending can be seen from a mile away, this joyride is still one worth taking.
I had a need for speed. And this movie satisfied it.