Film adaptation of ‘Need for Speed’ video-game franchise tame, uninspired

The bridge between video games and films is a tough one to cross. There have been few successful attempts to adapt the fun of a video game into the complete storyline of a movie with (both figurative and literal) three-dimensional characters and “Need for Speed” is no exception.

As Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman drove off into the night in the final episode of an epic five-season journey of “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013), he realized he could now do anything. Paul himself must have come to a similar conclusion as “Breaking Bad” neared its end and ultimately decided to delve into the world of street racing.

The film adaptation of the incredibly popular game franchise “Need for Speed” tries to create a film set in a world many have already experienced. The story follows Tobey Marshall (Paul) as he travels across the country with his financial backer’s right-hand woman Julia (Imogen Poots) and the rest of his crew to compete in a secret race. The film spends entirely too long setting up the background for this contest: Tobey’s young racing apprentice and friend is killed in a race against his boss, Dino (Dominic Cooper), who then frames Tobey for manslaughter, sending him to jail. Two years later, Tobey is released from prison and our wrongly convicted protagonist begins planning how to get his revenge on Dino.

Nothing has changed in the two years Tobey spent locked up — there is no character evolution here. His stance on street racing remains the same, and the viewers are simply supposed to accept this because more racing needs to happen for the sake of plot progression. Indeed, the writers often take the easy way out in order to advance the storyline, without considering how their characters would actually react. Ironically, they seem to have stuck to closely to the video game genre. In the world of “Need for Speed” there are no consequences to actions and getting sent to jail is like pushing a reset button. At several points, the racers crash into other cars or innocent bystanders for no real reason other than for the purpose of entertainment-value. If the writers assumed, however, that audiences would be fully engaged by watching on-screen adrenaline junkies slam on the clutch, grab onto the stick shift and leave behind them both a trail of smoke, they thought wrong.

The cars, however, are a particular highlight of the movie. Ranging from classic American muscle cars to beautiful Swedish supercars, this film is an auto enthusiast’s dream. Furthermore, no CGI was used in the making of the film, which is surprising, because some of the stunts are quite impressive. Though this helps to ground the film in reality, the issue is that despite the admirable choice to actually do all the stunts, all the action seemed a bit restrained. The appeal of the “Fast and Furious” franchise is the unchecked madness of the action sequences. What keeps viewers coming back sequel after sequel is the question of what new insanity filmmakers will come up with next. If “Need for Speed” were to have gone this route, however, it would likely be criticized for trying to copy the success of the already well-established “Fast and Furious” series. This ultimately left “Need for Speed” in an unfortunate spot where the writers had to choose between copying a winning formula or tell a boring story. The truth is, however, they probably shouldn’t have made the movie in the first place.