Car Movie Review: Need For Speed (2014)

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 10: A general view of the 'Need For Speed' Ford Mustang Hero Car on June 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tiffany Rose/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 10: A general view of the 'Need For Speed' Ford Mustang Hero Car on June 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tiffany Rose/WireImage) /

Director Scott Waugh wanted to create a car movie which has the panache of the video game on which it is based and the heart of a classic revenge thriller from the 1960s. He succeeded to a certain extent with 2014’s Need for Speed.

Act of Valor was director Scott Waugh’s debut flick and it’s safe to call the military actioner “Navy SEALs for the YouTube generation”. It had remarkable practical effects, unusual camera angles and inventive filming techniques on display as far as a medium-budget action movie is concerned. So to have the same guy in charge of the Need for Speed movie was a great piece of news upon announcement of the project. Plus, the prospect of seeing one of the most popular racing games in the world, finally getting its big screen debut was quite appealing. And it had Aaron Paul in the lead role, following up his huge critical success in Breaking Bad. But did Need for Speed deliver?

In pieces, yes. It wasn’t a darling with critics who want every superhero movie to be The Dark Knight, every action movie to be Die Hard and every car chase movie to be Vanishing Point. It is often regarded as a B-movie with big studio production values and a wafer-thin storyline. And they are right. Perhaps at the hands of a better director, Need for Speed would have had a better shot at becoming a memorable action movie.

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An example of that? John Wick. “Mob steals the car and kills the dog of a lone, retired hitman. Hitman comes out of retirement vowing revenge and kills everyone.” Chad Stahelski- David Leitch duo turned that thread into a modern-day classic. Need for Speed has more story than that. But its dialogues and screenplay let it down big time.  But should we bother much about those flaws? Not really, if you are in for a strong dose of thrilling vehicular action and a judicious amount of car porn.

Need for Speed could have been a far superior movie with another director helming it. But Scott Waugh’s attempt doesn’t disappoint, especially because of his decision to pull off the stunts and chases the old-fashioned way.

The main attractions of Need for Speed are the car chases, of course. Waugh has succeeded in injecting the chase scenes with a gritty tone which is testimony to his reverence for the 1960s car chase classics like The Bullitt. That’s evident right from the the opening street race scene, through the lengthy cross-country drive on board the Shelby and all the way to the concluding epic race with all those drool-worthy supercars in attendance.

The stunt team has done an impeccable job. They didn’t resort to the relatively easier task of getting a computer to render weightless action set pieces. Instead, they did it the hard way. They built replicas of all the expensive supercars which starred in the movie, all 15 of them in a short span of 6 months. And they just went out and did all the crazy things that you see in the movie, for real. The video below will help in digesting that part of the tale.

So when you see a McLaren P1 barrel-rolling across the road at 150mph, that’s an actual car. It may be a highly-detailed replica, but that’s far superior to something which is usually cooked up in CGI. The right combination of real supercars for the less-dangerous shots and their near-perfect replicas for the absolute bonkers sequences, led to some of the scintillating chases filmed in the recent past.  The crew used a fleet of mighty impressive camera cars too, including a modified Ferrari 458 Italia.

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. Need for Speed is one big $66 million advertisement for the Ford Mustang. You have one (the 2013 Shelby Mustang GT500) which is right there on the screen for 80% of the total runtime. The specially-modified wide-body Stang is referred to in the movie as the last Mustang that Carroll Shelby had been working on at the time of his death. The movie plot attributes it with a $2.7 million price tag and goes on to show Aaron Paul’s character taking it to the edge and beyond in one massive, super-long chase across the country. At the end of the flick, you get to see the 2015 Ford Mustang GT too, which makes this movie the new Stang’s Hollywood debut vehicle (pun intended).

On a related note, one of the eight Mustangs which were provided by Ford to the Need for Speed production crew was sold off in 2014 at Barrett-Jackson’s auction for a whopping $300,000. The funds raised were channelled to a good cause – the Henry Ford Health System.

Need for Speed may not have become the next Fast & Furious, but with a better director the sequel can steer the franchise in that direction. We recommend Chad Stahelski or David Leitch for that seat. The color palate can be a bit brighter though, compared to their recent offerings like John Wick and Atomic Blonde.

The casting is impressive with Aaron Paul in the lead and you’ll find Rami Malek as one of the supporting characters. Mr. Robot doesn’t have much to do here than being a comic-relief and flashing his rear-end for a brief moment. Michael Keaton is on board and hams things up as the mysterious rich guy who hosts the climactic underground race. Kid Cudi is around as the friend-in-need who keeps switching aircraft throughout the entire length of the movie. One of them being a massive military helicopter. Fifty Shades of Grey starlet Dakota Johnson is there too and this was before she became famous for her as someone by the name of Anastasia Steele. Dominic Cooper dials in an enjoyably hammy performance as the baddie who locks horns with the leading man. Imogen Poots winds up the cast as the likable love interest to Aaron’s character.

Drawing only $43 million at the US box office, the movie could have become a flop, had it not been for the ever-growing China market. China contributed $66 million to the global box office tally of $203 million. Need for Speed can’t be termed a box office blockbuster by any means. But its success in China alone has resulted in a China-set sequel being greenlit. The action flick may not have turned out to be the next Fast & Furious that Dreamworks would have wanted it to be. However, it has the scope to be a reasonable international money maker franchise for the studio.

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Give Need for Speed a shot. It isn’t going to be your favorite car flick. But you may end up liking it. Worst case scenario? It will be a guilty pleasure.

Watch Need for Speed for what its marketing team tried to sell throughout their entire campaign – the car chases. Those sequences are bloody good and the mindless vehicular action will keep you entertained. You also have the adorable Imogen Poots to turn your attention to if and when there is something called “That’s too many cars!”. Plus, Nathan Furst’s original score has its share of melodies and epic tracks which adds to the overall experience.

To enjoy Need for Speed, you need to ignore physics to some extent. Acknowledge the holes in the screenplay and script which are large enough for a full-size Shelby Mustang GT500 to pass through. Grab the popcorn, sit back and watch it as a spectacle movie with lots of great-looking cars. Hoping it to deliver anything more will lead to huge disappointments.