Even when compared to other films posing as Ford Mustang commercials, Need for Speed isn’t particularly memorable for anything other than the startling incompetence and dull sheen of the end result. The film was adapted from EA’s popular series of racing games and yet, for all the rampant wrong turns made in the production, the feeling that the film is plotted like a video game is not among them. Rather, director Scott Waugh and writer George Gatins have sculpted a wildly atonal and over-extended love-on-the-run tale, one in which Mount Kisco’s greatest racing secret, Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), pairs with Julia (Imogen Poots), his backer’s number two, to enter a high-stakes race in San Francisco.
This competition takes awhile to get underway though, as the filmmakers front-load the film with a lengthy detailing of the death of Tobey’s angelic compatriot in a high-speed crash caused by Dino (Dominic Cooper), Tobey’s rival who subsequently frames him for the entire fiasco. The inclusion of all this bloated introductory drama is also part of the film’s messy design, which packs in a preposterous amount of narrative pit stops along Tobey and Julia’s route to the West Coast. Backed by Benny (Scott Mescudi), Finn (Rami Malek), and Joe (Ramón Rodríguez), the would-be couple find themselves in a number of high-speed chases, but the filmmakers branch out to tend to the comings and goings of the crew and the competitors. Benny’s inane asides, largely delivered as he pilots planes and helicopters, is a constant irritation, as are the interjections of Monarch (Michael Keaton), the race’s loudmouth mastermind. There’s one extended sequence, set at a gas station, which has absolutely no bearings on anything in the movie, other than to remind us how awesome Tobey is.
The audience is even privy to Finn’s resignation from his day job, which consists of him stripping down to his socks and stealing a kiss from the office hottie, who yells at him to call her. It adds absolutely nothing to the film, and doesn’t say much about the character other than he’s comfortable with his body and committing mild sexual assault. Indeed, this scene speaks to the film’s egregious and unwavering misogynistic posturing. Much of the talk between Tobey and his crewmates can be likened to a dick-measuring contest, and Benny, at one point, stops mid-chase to zoom in on a trio of runners’ bouncing asses. Perhaps nothing encapsulates the film’s overall mode better than Monarch’s praise of Tobey’s “blue collar” balls, an allusion to the film’s brazen equation of the working class with virility, while conversely busying itself with dialogue centered around large sums of money and how to get paid.
Worse yet, Julia, the only major female presence, is utilized primarily to reinforce sexist stereotypes and Tobey’s essential goodness; the film even has the gall to end on a “women drivers” joke. But what makes Waugh’s film so uniquely catastrophic is how none of this melds, how maddeningly disconnected each sequence feels from the last, which is entirely the fault of the director, who also serves as co-editor. The film would have been much more palatable if the filmmakers had refrained from toggling so rapidly between the giddily dumb and the oppressively histrionic, the latter of which owes quite a lot to Nathan Furst’s shrilly sincere score. One has to almost marvel at the way the cast and crew power through this ludicrous material, despite the fact that the wheels come off Need for Speed well before Tobey and Julia even get on the road.