I like Aaron Paul. I've met the guy a couple times over the last few months, and he seems like a mensch. He was at Sundance for Hellion, and came across as a genuine, down-to-Earth guy who was more interested in talking about his fellow cast members than himself. While he's famous for playing a schmuck on a TV series about cooking meth, he has managed, it seems, to not have let fame get to his head.
I saw him again about a week later when he was in Toronto for the Need For Speed premiere, and he was again completely at ease with the pretty intense mob that greeted him. The audience was filled with 20 to 50 year old women, many of whom were shouting out "call me Bitch!" as he introduced the film.
This was kind of horrifying. It wasn't dissimilar to the screaming fangirls waiting for Gosling at the Drive premiere at TIFF, oblivious (obviously) to what Refn and co. had in store.
Because he's a nice guy, because he's an actor that I think is pretty good and deserving of fame and fortune, I'm using this intro to procrastinate a bit.
For you see, Need For Speed, Paul's first post-Breaking Bad entry into popular culture, isn't very good.
The film tries hard, it should be said. It's directed by Scott Waugh, a stuntman (and son of famed stuntie Fred Waugh) who previously directed Act of Valor. AoV starred a bunch of non-actors, a slew of US Navy SEALS basically playing themselves in what amounts to a propaganda film that feels like a video game.
Need For Speed, of course, derives its ontological basis from a video game. The narrative, such as it is, is stuck onto the racing sequences like sponsor decals on a NASCAR ride, something that's distracting, arbitrary and gaudy, yet seemingly necessary for the project at hand. It's a kind of marriage between a revenge thriller and Cannonball Run, with multi-million dollar cars crashing along for our amusement.
For petrolheads, there's some delightful car porn on screen. Koeniseggs, Lambos, McLarens, and other Eurosupercar madness abounds, making the hero car (a Mustang) all the more preposterous. The love of classic racing films is not exactly subtle, right down to shots lifted from likes of Bullit as homage to the flicks of the 60s and 70s.
Michael Keaton shows up as a kind of insane DJ/race sponsor, and he at least seems to be having a good time chewing scenes while cooped up in his podcasting lair. Paul doesn't have a hell of a lot to work with, but he seems to be trying damn hard to keep a straight face through it, and he's at least convincing when behind the wheel.
So, forgetting any semblance of plot, the film does a pretty decent job of showing stuff blow up real good. Car geeks are going to enjoy seeing the stuff slide by on screen, often shot in new and entertaining ways (the POV shots lifted from the game are particularly energetic). Waugh went to great lengths to say "no CGI was used", basically to hint that actual things were actually sliding around. Then again, certain shots look positively "waxy" (such as a burning Lambo), and he admitted that stuff like camera-rig removal was done. So, real cars, augmented. No complaints there.
Alas, even the most kinetic of action sequences doesn't really add up to much in the way of original entertainment. It does feel kind of like a cutscene from a game, and I don't mean that in a good way. Questions about sentencing guidelines in for vehicular homicide aside, the preposterousness of the narrative overshadows any verisimilitude brought about through the use of real stunties really driving cars really damn fast.
Plus, prototype or no, there's no fucking way that Mustang wouldn't be eaten by the other cars, even if they had to stop to fuel/change tires every few minutes.
So, is there a need for Need For Speed? Well, no, not really. Yet even in its klunky form its miles better than the first Fast/Furious, and look at how that shitshow has turned into one of the most entertaining franchises in some time! So, who knows, maybe this is just the initial exposition, resulting in some madcap series of films where more millions will be spent on carbon fiber and hardened steel in order to sate the desire to see things drive quickly for 90 minutes on screen. Meanwhile, I know there's better in the wings for Mr. Paul. Speaking of, I wonder if the sequel should take place with a bunch of planes?