NeedforSpeedcoverGrade: B-
Entire family: No
2014, 132 min., Color
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Rated PG-13 for intense racing scenes and some violence and language
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD Copy
Bonus features: B-

Watching this 2014 action film from DreamWorks-Touchstone, I felt like a judge on The Voice, but with the chairs in reverse. I was facing the action and had my hand on the button a bunch of times to turn that chair around and give Need for Speed a bad review. But every time I got close to that imaginary button, I’d pull back. Though there’s more action than character development, though the plot has big chunks missing so that director Scott Waugh could get on with the action, and though there was no shortage of cheesy or predictable moments, I still got caught up in this film.

Racing is an adrenalin rush, and so, apparently, is vicariously riding along.

Bryan Cranston’s TV sidekick Aaron Paul breaks a little badder as Tobey Marshall, the main character in Need for Speed who makes more money driving in illegal street races than he does working on high performance cars in his garage. He uses a team that includes not just car people, but a pilot who advises him and others about traffic up ahead. And let’s not underestimate the importance of this pilot, who keeps wanting his pals to call him “Maverick.” The cars are traveling 130-150 miles per hour, driving on both sides of the street and through intersections. I’m no racing expert, but it all looked scarily real to me—which is what you’d expect when the director is a former stuntman.  

Set in Mt. Kisco, New York but filmed largely in Alabama and Georgia, Need for Speed takes off when Tobey’s nemesis (we don’t really know why) shows up at the garage with an offer: finish building a rare Ford Mustang once owned by the late Carroll Shelby, and he and his team would get 25 percent of what he’s able to sell the car for.

NeedforSpeedscreenPaul may not have the kind of charisma audiences expect from a leading man, but he has great chemistry with British actress Imogen Poots, who plays a car buyer. Their interplay gives this racing film a little wink to go along with the nod to all cars, all the time. They have the kind of playful give-and-take that characterizes romantic comedies, though the action is so non-stop that no one would ever mistake Need for Speed for anything romantic, especially with a nemesis (Dominic Cooper) to defeat and a death to avenge.

Need for Speed is a film loosely based on a video game, and while previous games were all legal, track-based contests, the upcoming Need for Speed Rivals video game will apparently come closer to the action shown in this film, which showcases illegal street racing. But for many parents, racing of any kind will be better than shooter games and movies, and this one is rated PG-13 for mostly for frightening and intense racing scenes.

In the end, it’s a revenge tale that plays itself out with all the predictability of the final chariot race in Ben-Hur. You know it’s coming, and with Waugh directing you know it’s going to be preposterously spectacular. You just don’t know how or when.

As with many films like this, you’ll need to keep yourself from asking too many questions. Don’t question the legal system as it relates to the characters, or wonder too much how their pilot friend manages to come up with different modes of air transportation. Don’t think too hard about the big race that is put together by an eccentric racing fan-slash-podcaster (Michael Keaton). And don’t worry about backstories or plot gaps or motivations. This is a pure action film. None of the other stuff matters . . . and that includes all the clichés and stock characters you’ll meet along the way. Just enjoy the ride and the cinematography, which relies heavily (and happily) on helicopter shots almost as spectacular as the auto action.