Engine Roaring Nirvana

By: Kamel Benyahia

Since their debut on the original Playstation, every “Need for Speed” game has been about driving the most insane cars on twisting country roads and bustling city streets while being chased by overzealous cops.  This movie captures the essence of speed and envelops the audience in an ecstasy- inducing aural overload, with the real stars being the American cars and their throaty revs.

The story that takes place between the races is a bit cliche at times, with the prodigal racing son, Toby Marshall (Aaron Paul), who leaves his dreams to run his late father’s shop while his rival, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), goes on to a successful pro career in racing.

Dino comes back to his hometown to ask Toby and his crew to complete a Carroll Shelby project. The greatest American sports car builder who ever lived was working on a car but died before he could finish.  He offers Toby a sizable sum to finish the car, a one-of-a-kind Mustang as beautiful as Eleanor from “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” knowing Toby has the only crew that can truly finish Shelby’s work.

This car sounds as good as it looks.

This car sounds as good as it looks.

The car is being built for a wealthy English businessman who sends his assistant to negotiate the price of the car.  Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots) states they will only buy the car if it can break 230 MPH.  Against Dino’s wishes, Toby shows that the Mustang is capable of breaking that speed.

The first race scene features a much more realistic take on street racing.  Unlike “Fast and Furious,” which features a club atmosphere with supermodels and ridiculous cars at every race, “Need For Speed” shows everyone meeting at a drive-in theater, and cars that are indicative of a person who spends the little money they make on their car.  There is also a nod to Steve McQueen’s famous role in “Bullitt” with the infamous San Francisco chase scene playing in the background on the drive-in movie screen.

Dino doesn’t like that people believe Toby is faster than he is, so he challenges Toby and one of his crew members to a race in three Euro-spec Koenigseggs.  It’s towards the end of this race that things go terribly wrong for Toby and his crew, and this sets in motion the revenge story touted in the previews.

Toby, once he gets out of prison, has to make across the country in order to enter an exclusive race held by the elusive Monarch (Michael Keaton).  Keaton’s character is reminiscent of Cleavon Little’s memorable role as the blind DJ who listens to police scanners and broadcasts their plans over the radio for Kowalski in his Challenger from the movie “Vanishing Point.”

The drive across America in order to make it to the race on time is handled well, but could have used more action.  Dino puts a bounty out on Toby who is driving to California to challenge Dino in this exclusive race, but only one group of people go after him in heavily modified 4×4’s.  This is the only time he is challenged for his spot in the race even though the bounty on Toby was country wide.  The missed an opportunity to have challengers from different states chase Toby for his spot in the race.

“Need For Speed” gets it right during the actual race scenes.  The races are not over-edited, short race sequences.  They are long, loud, and with very little dialogue.  The sound of a Pontiac GTO, ’69 Ford Torino, and other muscle cars roaring through the night in a quiet country town with no computer generated effects is what makes this a racer’s movie for racers.  The exhaust notes of a perfectly-tuned car make a better soundtrack than any music score.

No computer generated images here!

No computer generated images here!

“Need For Speed” also paid tribute to the games that inspired the movie with aggressive police tactics like rolling roadblocks and kamikaze cop cars.  I was worried how the game would translate into a movie since the games rarely had stories revolving around them, with the exception of a couple of spin-off  titles.  The thing about racing movies that can drag them down is the story in between the action.  “Need For Speed” does a good job of inserting some humor and a love story that doesn’t get in the way of the lead role that racing plays.



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