Movie review: “Need for Speed” isn’t exactly great, but it’s good fun

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From the March 13, 2014 edition

“Need for Speed” is better than it has any right to be. In the wake of the box-office success of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, it’s hardly surprising Hollywood would grab another fast-car action property. What is surprising is how “Need for Speed,” while surely not a great movie, is a good time.

Starring “Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul as Tobey Marshall, a notorious street racer, “Need for Speed” found the right person to front its film. Even if Paul doesn’t get the opportunity to display his acting chops like he did on TV, he carries the film and gives the audience someone to root for.

Tobey’s run of awful luck is the typical first-act parable: his dad dies, his mechanic shop is under water, his ex shows up with her douchebag racer celebrity beau — rivalry! — and then he winds up in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Yes, this is all very cliché. What the script lacks narratively — I could literally predict how almost every scene would play out — it makes up for with some laughs, heart and playfulness.

Once Tobey teams up with Julia (Imogen Poots) and her boss’ 900-horsepower Shelby Mustang to travel across the country for the world’s greatest street race, “Need for Speed” becomes a buddy movie with rom-com elements. It’s simple, but there’s fun in watching Paul and Poots banter and flirt, outrun cops and oh boy, that car is sweet (especially racing around downtown Detroit).

Paul is more than solid here, giving his all with a script — from first-time screenwriter George Gatins that’s only OK. Besides, Paul, Poots and Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi) shine as supporting characters in a cast that injects the right amount of fun into this simple action flick. And “Act of Valor” director Scott Waugh does a commendable job with the racing scenes.

Based off the same-name video game, “Need for Speed” is simple, occasionally stupid, but a worthy addition to the cannon of action/car race flicks that audiences — especially muscle/European sports car enthusiasts — will enjoy.

Photo courtesy Walt Disney Pictures