From a racing movie, we've come to expect dumb fun. But the silly action melodrama Need for Speed—based on EA's popular series of video games—drags, and I'm not talking about the races. Manifestly overlong at 130 minutes, Need for Speed includes some eye-popping racing scenes of some very pretty high-performance sports cars. But in a world with thousands of cable channels and six Fast & Furious movies (with a seventh on the way), fast cars aren't enough. Need for Speed gives it a go, go, go by pulling back on the CGI and staging practical stunt racing, and by casting riding-high actor Aaron Paul in the lead. (The picture has also been postconverted to 3D, presumably to squeeze some more bucks out of Breaking Bad fans who just have to come out and support their boy Paul.)
The problem is that the story and the picture's tone amount to an alternatingly dull or annoying mess of tragic overtones (a little bit of "Noooooooooo!", a lot of brooding), witless comedy (self-described "locker room" banter), and shoehorned romance (the lovers bonding over maniacal driving). It's embarrassingly easy to see each plot development coming, like a lone car on an empty highway. And then there's the fact that the recent death of Fast & Furious star Paul Walker in a high-speed accident has harshed the vibe of high-speed recklessness on screen, fairly raising the question "Too soon?"
Paul plays Tobey Marshall, an amateur racer who has recently inherited Marshall Performance Motors from his late father. Unable to keep up on his bank loan payments, Marshall is prone to betting big on street races, especially against his pro nemesis, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). When Dino murderously "love-taps" off the road the Patroclus to Tobey's Achilles, Tobey winds up framed, imprisoned for two years (which he deserves anyway for insanely reckless driving), and rage-motivated to win vengeance from Dino. Naturally, this takes the form of getting into underground race "the DeLeon," in which winner takes all (the cars): $7 million dollars worth.
The emphasis on money isn't accidental: besides serving as blatant advertising for the cars, Need for Speed keeps condescendingly underlining how Tobey is the great poor hope—"the blue-collar kid!" crows Michael Keaton's Monarch, the man behind the DeLeon and apparently the Wolfman Jack of street racing (Keaton's usually a hoot, but he's at his most annoying here). Speaking of Wolfman Jack, director Scott Waugh (the Navy SEALS ad Act of Valor) ill-advisedly includes nods to superior vehicular movies American Graffiti, Bullitt and Speed—not to mention the Cannonball Run-ny plot point forcing Tobey to speed from New York to California in 45 hours.
Tobey accomplishes this with love interest Julia (Imogen Poots)—who lamely chides him, "Never judge a girl by her Gucci boots"—mostly riding shotgun (though she's behind the wheel for off-roading in Monument Valley). And so it goes with the bland characterization and the 234mph: Need for Speed is like throwing a pile of car parts at the wall to see what'll stick. Spoiler: nothing.
Disney's domestic release of Need for Speed is a good news, bad news situation. The bad news is that Disney hasn't offered (at least as of yet) a domestic Blu-ray 3D release (one is available in several other countries, including the UK), despite the film getting 3D theatrical runs. The good news is that the Blu-ray special edition is otherwise excellent, with reference-quality A/V and substantial bonus features. The picture quality can't be beat, with bold, true color, precise contrast and rock-solid black level, and pinpoint-detail yielding great depth and texture. The overall effect is the best of what hi-def Blu-ray can offer with a spanking-new source like that of Need for Speed. Likewise, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix doesn't miss a trick, re-presenting, with perfect fidelity, the theatrical audio in every line of dialogue, crunching-metal sound effect, and blast of music. Placement is thoughtful and impactful, and the LFE is certainly playing with power here.
Bonus features kick off with an audio commentary with director Scott Waugh and Aaron Paul will delight fans of both talents, who make the chatty track personal and informative about their own influences, careers, and experiences making the film, as well as the overall journey of the material from the source video game to the screen.
A series of behind-the-scenes featurettes add value: "Capturing Speed: Making An Authentic Car Movie" (9:45, HD) covers the enlisted expertise and research (and hardware) behind the car culture in the movie; "Ties That Bind" (12:04, HD) looks back at relevant family legacies in film stuntwork, as they trace back from the crew of the film; "The Circus Is In Town" (10:50, HD) amounts to a brief director-led lecture on the production, with photo montage and behind-the-scenes B-roll as visual aids; and "The Sound of Need For Speed" (9:25, HD) enlists composer Nathan Furst to discuss his score, and re-recording mixers Greg Russell and Scott Millan to explain the process of capturing, creating and mixing the driving sound effects.
Rounding out the extras are "Monarch & Maverick Outtakes" (1:43, HD) giving us more of Michael Keaton and Scott Mescudi's work, four "Deleted Scenes" (5:09, HD)—"Pole Position," "Princess Julia," "Salt Flats" and "Jailhouse Dance Party: Extended"—with Waugh intros, and the "Need for Speed Rivals Trailer" (1:00, HD).
All in all, this will be a hard-to-resist package for the film's aficionados, but Blu-ray 3D adopters will have to think twice about whether to wait a while or (if also region-free-player adopters) import the Blu-ray 3D from another market.
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