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DreamWorks Pictures
Aaron Paul stars as Tobey Marshall, a mechanic and race car driver who’s out for revenge, in “Need for Speed.”

Stunts and races thrill even if cliches don’t in ‘Need for Speed’

It takes a lot for a film based on a video game to impress a crowd these days, given the dazzling advancements in gaming technology. But Need for Speed, based on the hit EA Entertainment racing game that’s sold 150 million units, could now drive some of that success toward the box office.

Despite its cliched elements, this adrenaline-fueled stunt fest is an unequivocal thrill that deserves to be seen on the big screen. Starring Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, Need for Speed is fiercely entertaining, loaded with beautiful cars, winding roads and racers in leather coats.

Paul has been making an impressive transition to film, starting with the indie drama Hellion. In Need for Speed, he flexes his machismo as a street racer on a vendetta.

Following a two-year prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, mechanic and race car driver Tobey Marshall (Paul) is determined to get revenge on Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), the man who framed him. To do so, Tobey drives from New York to California to battle Dino in a high-stakes race dubbed the De Leon.

Along for the ride are British car buff Julia (Imogen Poots) and Benny (Scott Mescudi, also known as recording artist Kid Cudi), the jovial airborne lookout of Tobey’s crew.

Written by first-timer George Gatins, who produced She’s Out of My League, the plot is heavy with questionable logic and monotonous dialogue. Modeled after classic 1960s and 1970s action films, Need for Speed often attempts to be a dramatic thriller. But it’s best when consciously comical. Trite conventions, like Tobey’s brooding demeanor, punctuated by his deep monotone and acute stare, are effective, although overdone at times.

But Tobey isn’t always serious. When riding cross country, the eccentric Julia gets him to loosen up. Their banter offers cute comedic relief and sets the stage for romance. Long gone are thoughts of his ex, Anita, played by upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson, who tests out her siren potential. But it’s the sexy, witty and accessible Poots who really shines. Michael Keaton, as the ridiculously animated mystery man behind the De Leon race, is another highlight.

Easily the best parts of this ride are the thrilling stunts and races. Stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh puts us right in the driver’s seat as cars exceed 120 mph and spin through the air. First-person camera angles keep the action immediate and personal, just like the game. Overhead views offer a sweeping scope as drivers speed past vineyards in California’s Mendocino County, where the De Leon race scenes were filmed.

Though the pace remains mostly high-octane throughout, Need for Speed drags in the beginning and during the final face-off. But overall, this flashy underworld of super-charged machinery and intense action is a blast.

MOVIE RATING

Need for Speed

***

Rated PG-13, 130 minutes.

Opens Friday.


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