What if it was revealed that “Need for Speed” was actually written and directed by a car? Not a super intelligent car like KITT or a whimsy-laden auto like Herbie the Love Bug, but just a regular car, like your father’s Mercury Sable. Would that change your opinion about the quality of the movie? I know it would for me. You couldn’t say anything really bad about “Need for Speed” because it would be kind of amazing. Somehow a car got it together long enough to not only sit behind a laptop in a Starbucks and write a screenplay, but also direct the movie and carefully wean star Aaron Paul off of shouting “Yo!” at everyone within earshot.
Additionally, all of “Need for Speed’s” grating flaws would be understandable. Of course the characters would sound and act like no living person you’ve ever known, and yes, why wouldn’t most of the two-hour running time be devoted solely to random shots of muscle cars vrooming and scooting all about? “Need for Speed was directed by a blessed car!” you’d shout at your mother (because she doesn’t like to hear swearing). But the unforgiving reality of “Need for Speed” was that it was actually directed by a human being, a very boring human being that seems to have never spent much time around other human beings.
“Need for Speed” is dumb with a capital duh. It’s the kind of film where characters race experimental muscle cars down the wrong side of the highway and nobody seems to notice or care enough to dial 911. It’s also the kind of film where we’re supposed to like these same characters that race experimental muscle cars down the wrong side of the highway as they violently force minivans and school buses off the road.
“Need for Speed” takes place in a world where its inhabitants are defined solely by vague personality traits, such as Likes Cars (Paul), Enjoys Toothpicks (Ramon Rodriguez), Wears Ominous Turtleneck (Dominic Cooper), Exists for the Sole Purpose of Dying Dramatically (Harrison Gilbertson), Has Vulva But Also Likes Cars (Imogen Poots), and Michael Keaton (Michael Keaton, which, incidentally, it’s great to see him back in films again, but does it have to be in films like “Robocop” and Need for Speed?”).
And, granted, that’s to be expected in films like “Need for Speed” because the thrilling car stunts are supposed to overshadow all of those horrible scenes where people are talking to each other or inexplicably stripping off their Hush Puppies and business casual wear in an office building, but there’s nothing particularly thrilling about the stunts in “Need for Speed.” Sure, there’s a lot of swerving, a fair amount of cars twirling around in the air in slow motion, and a scene where an army helicopter dangles a fancy car over a valley. However, those stunts couldn’t even hold a tire pressure gauge (Beep! Beep! It’s car-humor-laugh-time!) to those in “Cannonball Run II,” and that movie had Tony Danza interacting with an orangutan in a chauffeur’s uniform. You can’t top that, ever.
Of course, the most irritating thing about “Need for Speed” is the fact that, early in the film’s two-hour running time, a clip from “Bullitt” is shown at an eerily timeless drive-in. I know what you’re trying to do here, “Need for Speed,” and guess what? You’re not “Bullitt;” you’re not even a late-period “Fast & Furious” sequel. You’re yet another unnecessary, unasked for adaptation of a video game. Obscurity is beckoning “Need for Speed;” do the world a favor and embrace it.