28 March 2014

Need for Speed

It is possible that I have a thing for movies about driving fast? I did not actually know this about myself. I assumed that my love for the Fast and Furious franchise had just as much to do with the puns, wryly self-aware campiness, and over-the-top stunts, rather than specifically with the cars. And I mainly saw Rush for Daniel Brühl. In fact, I had no intention of going to see Need for Speed (some crappy Fast and Furious knock-off, I figured), but the only other thing playing right now that I haven't seen is Monuments Men, and if I'm gonna see a bad movie, I'd prefer it to be without any intellectual pretensions. But at some point I realized I was gasping and clutching my throat in terror during one of the racing scenes in this movie. I have a visceral reaction to automobile collisions (maybe everyone does?). So high-speed driving with a sprinkling of smash-ups will definitely keep me on the edge of my seat. So Need for Speed totally worked for me. I have no idea why it got panned so hard in the US. I mean, it's not Fellini, but for what it is, it's pretty great. I've also seen the new 300 movie and Non-Stop in the last week, and neither were anywhere near as entertaining as this.

What is more surprising is that it did so without any discernible sense of irony. They played this movie totally straight. Everybody involved seemed committed to going with it. Even the sassy black friend (plaued by Kid Cudi! What!) was just sassy enough to be, well, sassy, but also a little eye-rollingly not-actually-that-funny. A part of me really appreciated that -- it made him more realistic. Though of course, fast-talking banter is part of what makes comedies so awesome. But I digress. Actually, everyone in this movie was just a little bit sub-par; like a b-list version of the absurdly attractive people you find in most such films. Which I liked about it. Aaron Paul completely won me over as the tormented hero. The role didn't require too much of him, but he supplemented it with his hilarious facial expressions and his winsome blue eyes. Imogen Poots (my god can that really be her name?) was a somewhat gentler version of the typically brutally sharp and devastatingly sexy sidekick/love interest, Dakota Johnson was a largely bland version of the ex-girlfriend, Dominic Cooper was a pedestrian evil villain, and the whole team of friends were all charming and funny and largely forgettable (ok, Rami Malek stripping was somewhat memorable).

The plot, unsurprisingly, is completely absurd. There's a lot of suspension of disbelief going on here. All you really need to know is, Aaron Paul is a really amazing driver, Dominic Cooper is super evil, and they are going to settle this on the track. Meanwhile, it does perk one's interest as to the sentencing guidelines of street-racing, and particularly whether in the real world one is charged with manslaughter or murder in some degree for the kinds of deaths you see in the film. Certainly better not to think too much about that. Or the implications (trying to say this in a non-spoiler way) of the fact that two characters in the film get out of jail at the same time when sentenced for very different things.  But actually, the film does gesture towards some kind of morality in a somewhat predictable but nonetheless vaguely admirable way.

But honestly, the more important thing is -- it's enjoyable as hell.

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