It is far too early to be wondering what the worst film of the year will be. With eight more months to go the playing field should be wide open. Last year, however, we only reached the first week of February before we were presented with what seemed like a no-brainer (in every sense of the term) in Movie 43. Little did we know that just six weeks later, A Good Day To Die Hard would come along and prove Movie 43 to be nothing more than an odd, albeit vulgar, footnote on most filmgoers end-of-year lists. This year, if a film comes along in the next six weeks, hell, the next six months, that manages to be any worse than video-game-to-big-screen monster Need For Speed, I might not only lose the will to watch movies, I might just lose the will to live.
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad’s Jesse) plays Blue Collar Guy, a blue collar guy running a blue collar workshop with a bunch of other blue collar guys all taking part in illegal street racing on the side for a bit of extra cash. One day, Bland Rich Villain (Dominic Cooper, not the only decent actor drowning here) strolls into their workshop with a proposal to rebuild Some Sweet Car that was once worked on by A Dead Guy We Should Care About, agreeing to give Blue Collar Guy and the Charisma Vacuums a cut of it’s final sale price. Enter Imogen Poots’ potential buyer, Hot British Girl, who (gasp!) knows more about cars than yer average girl and a race in which Justin Bieber Clone is killed by Bland Rich Villain, framing Blue Collar Guy and setting in motion a revenge tale/race-to-a-race/who-gives-a-shit story so unbelievably serious and dour you’ll forget why you even bothered in the first place.
Attempting to take advantage of The Fast and the Furious franchise, stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh appears to have misunderstood what it was that worked about those movies. Sure, some entries were down-right dreadful but it frequently hit the mark with (sometimes inadvertent) humour and (sometimes misogynistic) playfulness. Need For Speed not only misses this general jolliness but makes a crucial mistake in assuming that we care about the characters simply because other characters do. This error is compounded the further we get into things. With surprisingly few big set-pieces to distract, it becomes increasingly obvious just how flat and undeveloped our by-the-numbers group of heroes are.
When the action does kick into gear it only serves as a reminder of more accomplished fare (Rush being the most recent example) and makes one wonder why, with so much Need, there is alarmingly little Speed (yes, thank you). Sure, computer effects are avoided as most of the stunts are performed practically but this seems almost irrelevant as it fails to add or detract from the final product. It fails to excite. The antics seen in Bullitt and The Italian Job, despite being obvious references, are a long way away.
By the time we’ve crossed most of the United States and finally given up hope that Michael Keaton’s bizarre podcaster will eventually become an enjoyable distraction instead of an abrasive narrator, the film just keeps on going. And going. And going and going and going and goddammit, why do they have to take everything so seriously? Aren’t we here to have some fun?