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Need for Speed: Braking Bad

by Aly Semigran March 14, 2014 9:18 am
<i>Need for Speed</i>: Braking Bad

It's easy to see why Aaron Paul was cast as the all-American mechanic and underground street car racer Tobey Marshall in the latest video game-turned-movie Need for Speed. Paul's inviting baby face and general good guy demeanor -- the same one that made Jesse Pinkman so damn likable despite all of his fuck-ups and faults on Breaking Bad -- is pretty much the only thing that keeps you from absolutely hating Tobey and his moronic band of road carnage-producing pals.

Tobey is our hero, or so we're told, because he's trying to keep his recently deceased father's auto shop afloat, all while wowing the locals (the movie starts off in modern-day New York state, but the picturesque suburbs and drive-in theaters attempt to pay homage to the drag-race movies of yesteryear) with his superb – albeit very illegal – street car-racing skills. Now, Tobey and his buddies seem pretty hard up for cash, but they all have access to some very expensive cars, as well as an airplane and internet gadgets that could not only save their shop, but every shop within a 50-mile radius.

Of course, that simple solution would be far too simple for this simpleton movie. Instead, Tobey goes head-to-head with his nemesis, a hotshot (they're always hotshots, aren't they?) pro driver named Dino (Dominic Cooper, forgettable as ever), who happens to be dating Tobey's ex Anita (Dakota Johnson, emoting sparingly.) Tobey and his cronies agree to work alongside Dino to fix up a Mustang to sell to a collector, who just happens to be a beautiful British woman named Julia (Imogen Poots), for a hefty price tag. Now, Need for Speed already has a grossly bloated running time of 130 minutes, but nowhere in there did they manage to spare a second to show these guys actually making this car.

Anyway, Tobey and Dino are still rivals and decide to race each other, along with Tobey's pal Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), a fellow so dopey and "Aw, gee wiz, mister!", you know he's doomed. During their race, which causes multiple accidents for other drivers without getting the attention of a single police car or ambulance along the way, Dino causes Pete to swerve off the road. Dino takes off, leaving Tobey the only one at the scene of the crime, and thus the one locked away for Pete's death. Never mind that any number of the people they cut off during their joyride could have placed three cars or that there wasn't a single traffic camera to catch any of these incidents, because there is vengeance to be had!

After getting out of his prison stint, Tobey is a free man for approximately 0.3 seconds before he decides to square off against Dino in the DeLeon, a famed underground race along San Francisco's coast. Yes, the DeLeon is underground, despite the fact that its raced in broad daylight, broadcast loudly on the Internet by its manic promoter/the movie's completely unnecessary narrator Monarch (a cringe-worthy and intentionally over-the-top Michael Keaton), and its star racer is a wanted man breaking parole.

Julia (a screeching and thinly written character, who is somehow the only female of any substance here, which isn’t saying much) joins him on his road trip and, wouldn't you know, these two crazy kids fall in love despite the odds. But that's not the irksome thing about Tobey's loooooooooooong journey across the U.S. of A. It's that Tobey and his crew – including Benny (Kid Cudi), a wise-cracking pilot who patrols the skies, legally or otherwise, to help out – don't seem to give a shit about anyone but themselves. Tobey is so broken up about the road death of his buddy Little Pete, but he and his friends take absolutely no issue with running countless citizens and police officers off the road. Maybe it's because the death of Paul Walker still feels way too recent, but not even "cool" camera angles or high-speed 3-D adventure can make any of this look or feel exciting. But, hey, it's PG-13, so as long as we don't see the horrific outcomes, it's alright! Never has the argument for kids to stay home and play the video game instead been more compelling.

Tobey eventually makes it to California (for a movie about things going fast, it moves it a glacial pace), with some wacky, highly improbable hijinks along the way. Does Tobey beat Dino in the race? If you haven't figured that out already, Need for Speed may just be the movie for you. This movie is as ridiculous as it gets, in details big and small. (At one point Julia winds up in the hospital and asks for a laptop so she can stream the race, which a nurse happily provides for her. Thanks, Obamacare!) It's a poorly written, sexist, unfunny (there's a nude scene that is supposed to be played for laughs, but isn't and gets dragged out for longer than you'd expect), lifeless, excessive movie, but most notably, it's an utterly pointless one. Towards the end of the film, Keaton's Monarch ponders about Tobey's journey, "Was it worth it?" I can answer that, actually: hell no.

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