A couple of days ago I was sitting in a hotel room with nothing much to do so I ended up watching Need For Speed on TV. It’s a pretty mediocre film at best which I think a lot of people are already aware of and I’m sure anyone with half a brain could figure that out; for some reason however, I feel compelled to detail why I think so.
In a nutshell the movie is about people driving exotic cars very fast, sort of like a Fast and the Furious copy but with less heists. The story is focused on street racer/ car mechanic Toby Marshall, played by Aaron Paul, and his street racer/ car mechanic friends. The gang consisting of:
Toby Marshall – strong silent hero type, street racer who for some reason hasn’t been hired by any racing team.
Pete “Little Buddy” Nolasstname – Toby’s young protegé and little brother to his ex girlfriend
Flyer 1/Maverick – a guy who flies a plane and acts as Toby’s personal eye in the sky. He probably has a name but he’s so obsessed with his call sign I never bothered to learn it,
Mechanic sidekick 1 & mechanic sidekick 2 – basically cardboard cutout sidekick characters
The team is contacted by arch rival/nemesis Dino Brewster who commissions them to build a car. The car he wants them to build is the one Caroll Shelby was working on when he died. This makes sense because Caroll Shelby is a real life legend within the car tuning world who passed away a few years before the film was released; dropping his name adds verisimilitude and makes it look like the film makers know cars. What doesn’t make sense is that Dino claims they will sell the car for a whooping two million dollars, but the car they end up building is the Ford Mustang Shelby GT, the top spec version of which currently retails for an affordable $68000. OK, I understand that this is supposed to be the very car Shelby himself was working on but that’s still massively overpriced.
Anyway, despite hating Dino, Toby accepts the offer because of financial troubles or something (I don’t know, I missed the first few minutes) and the team starts to build the car. At this point, I thought the movie was going to turn into a Discovery Chanel car building show but no, they fade to black then skip forward to the car being finished.
The car is shown off at a fancy release party/auction. Toby and Pete are standing there showing off their work when a blond girl comes up to them. She is the love interest/token girl of the film and though she probably has a name I don’t remember it so I will simply go with Blondie. Anyway, Blondie starts asking a lot of inane question about the car, such as “does it go fast because it has a lot of horse power” and so on. When they proceed to show her the engine she spouts off a lot of car jargon to show that she does indeed know cars, then finishes with “quite nice actually”. When both Toby and Pete claim they didn’t expect that, she becomes offended asking if it’s because she’s British, or because she’s a woman.
Let me go off on a tangent here: Arguably the worlds biggest car show, Top Gear, is British, so the Brits do indeed know their cars. As for women, queen of the Nürburgring Sabine Schmitz is proof that having a vagina does in no way preclude you from motorsports excellence.
So no, the reason Toby and Pete were surprised at Blondie’s car knowledge was not because she’s British nor was i because she’s a woman, it’s because she presented herself as a silly girl without even the most basic car knowledge. Note that during this conversation, they mention that the car has 500 horse powers, this will come up later. It turns out that Blondie is the agent for a man interested in buying the car at which point, Dino pops up to join the negotiation. Here follows a discussion of top speed where Toby claims the car will do 230 (unspecified unit but I’ll give the movie the benefit of the doubt and say miles per hour) while Dino says it can “only” do 180. Pete then chimes in saying that maybe Dino can’t get it passed 180 mph, but that Toby can. This is where I call bullshit.
The top speed of a car is purely down to physics, no matter who is driving you will eventually reach the top speed, all you need is a long enough straight road. If you are trying to reach the top speed on a racetrack you need a good driver to keep the speed up in the corners, but they don’t say anything about this, all they mention is the top speed.
The next day Toby takes the car to a track and sure enough he get it to 230 mph as he promised at which point I have to call bullshit again. Remember that it was mentioned earlier that the car has 500 horse power. The real life Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R has 526 horse powers and it has an estimated top speed of 186 mph. Sure this is a special one-off model so it might be a bit faster but the thing is, going faster becomes exponentially harder the faster you go, which is why the Bugatti Veyron, the world’s fastest production car, has 1000 horse powers. Simply put, a Ford Mustang with 500 horse powers doing 230 mph is just not probable.
Despite getting the car sold for 2.7 million, Dino is angry at Toby for driving it and challenges him to a race. They go out to some mansion somewhere where Dino just happens to have a couple of super cars lying around. What bothers me is that he challenged Toby to a race, no one else, but Pete decided to come along anyway, and not only is it assumed that Pete should join the race too, but Dino actually has a spare super car for him. It doesn’t make sense, I mean the film makers included him because it’s necessary for the story but the characters don’t know this, why would Dino let him race?
Anyhow, Dino opens the garage and presents the three super cars which happens to be three identical (except for color) Koenigsegg Agera R, and Pete wonders if they are some kind of Ferraris. The average person might not know Koenigsegg but in the car world they have been well-known for at least 10 years. Of course, the Agera is a newer model but Koenigsberg generally look fairly similar so Pete, being a car person, should know this. If you want to let the audience know what they are, you could even have Pete say something like “wow, Koenigseggs, are those Ageras?” without making the poor guy look incompetent. Also, Dino mentions that the cars are Eurospec which seems obvious, most super car companies are European; also, the way he says it sounds really silly. So, the race starts and Pete ends up getting fridged (basically, killed off to serve as motivation for the main character, see Anita Sarkeesian’s video for a better explanation) by Dino, and Toby gets blamed for it and is hauled off to jail.
Fast forward a couple of years and Toby is out on parole. In the background, there has been this wealthy, radio-DJ-type guy called Monarch, who organizes a big, very exclusive race every year called the Del Rio or something like that (is it telling that this movie made so little impression on me I can’t seem to remember any names?). Toby wants to enter this race to clear his name – I’m not sure how that would work – and to do that he needs to get to the sign up meeting on the other side of the country and he only has 40 something hours to get there. He contacts the rich guy he sold that mustang to and somehow manages to borrow it. If I could afford a super exclusive 2.7 million dollar car I would never lend it to some mechanic out on parole but apparently, this movie finds that completely reasonable. The car is delivered by Blondie who has to go along to watch the car; and also so she can actually be in the movie for more than two scenes, she wouldn’t be a very good token girl otherwise.
At this point the movie transforms into some kind of Smokey and the Bandit copy as Toby and Blondie go racing across America. The plot here is basically as thin as that of Smokey and the Bandit but whereas as the older movie had Burt Reynolds with his fabulous mustache and tons of charming and witty banter of the CB radio, this has strong silent Aaron Paul, who doesn’t even have a mustache, and plenty of non witty banter. Along the way they instigate a number of police chases and while they did the same in Bandit, those were more or less related to the plot, here it seems like they have been tacked on just to give the audience some cool car chase scenes.
There are a couple of episodes in this part of the movie that bother me, first they stop somewhere along the way to try to convince Mechanic Sidekick 2 to break free from corporate servitude / financial stability. They get him to quit his job and as a way to show it as a moment of catharsis, he strips off all his clothes and walks out of the building (without being arrested for public nudity!). The next scene where we see him, he’s wearing the same kind of mechanic outfit as Mechanic Sidekick 1. There’s no explanation for where he got the clothes so I guess Mechanic sidekick 1 just drives around with a set of his friends clothes in the car or something.
Number two, there is a scene where Dino is telling Shady Businessman (don’t worry, we never see him again) about the Del Rio(?) race and he mentions that Monarch is a recluse and no one knows who he is. Simply put he makes it sound like contacting Monarch is difficult. A couple of scenes later, Blondie just calls Monarch up, no trouble at all. She even gets through on the first try – not much if a recluse there.
Number three, Dino tries to put a stop to Toby and more or less puts a price on his head, so Toby and Blondie end up getting chased through the desert on the top of a big cliff. Just when it looks like all is lost, Flyer 1/Maverick shows up in his deus ex helicopter and saves them. They never call for help or anything, he just knows to be there, in a helicopter too when he normally flies a plane. To save them, he lowers some chains that they can hook up to the car and he lifts them off the ground just as they drive off a cliff. Now I’m not sure the roof of a car is strong enough to be used for lifting it, and even if it is, the sudden yanking motion that driving off a cliff would create can’t be good. OK, they aren’t playing fast and loose with the laws of physics like in Fast and the Furious, but for a movie that has been sort of grounded in reality so far, this is a bit too much.
Anyway, they reach the driver sign up just in time and all is well. Strangely enough, Mechanic sidekicks 1 & 2 get there a short time later, so what was the point of all that high-speed shenanigans? Then, out of nowhere, they get hit by a truck, of course they survive but the Mustang gets totaled. Remember that this is a 2.7 million dollar car that they have borrowed from Blondie’s employer? You’d think that that might be a problem but nope, Blondie doesn’t even call to tell her boss what happened or anything, The movie just forgets this part of the plot.
You might think that the movie should be over now, but you’d be wrong. Toby’s ex, and Dino’s current girlfriend, Anita has found a car that Toby can use. It turns out to be the Koenigsegg Dino was driving when Pete died (the police couldn’t find it which is why Toby ended up in jail) and for some reason, he kept it with the paint scratches from Pete’s car still on the bumper. Instead of alerting the police to this evidence that could get him absolved, Toby, like an idiot, steals the car to use it in the race.
So it’s the climax of the movie and the big Del Rio (or whatever) race finally gets underway, with the focus on the competition between Toby and Dino. In fact, the movie is so focused on these two that Monarch, who is commenting, never even mentions the names of the other drivers; whenever anything happens to them, he simply refers to the brand of their car. Of course, they aren’t important characters and I would most likely forget their names but considering how exclusive the race is, the film makers could at least give them names. The point of the race is that the winner takes home the cars of all the other participants which could be several million dollars worth of super car exotica. This soon becomes a moot point as the drivers are taken out one by one in increasingly spectacular crashes until there’s only Dino and Toby left. Dino crashes too and Toby shows that he is the better man by going back and pulling him out of the wreckage. With no other drivers left it’s an easy win for Toby who wins….nothing.
As the movie is about to end, Monarch announces that scans of the car Toby was driving show that it was on the scene when Pete died and that proves Toby’s innocence. OK, it does prove Toby’s innocence but, how does Monarch know about Pete’s death, he’s never seemed to care about that before. Also, he just refers to him as Pete as if everyone listening to his show should know who that is (this is exposition for the sake of the audience, in case they are stupid, but why have Monarch mention it?). And so, the movie ends with Toby going to jail for reckless driving, forget the fact that he broke the rules of his parole and that he stole the car from Dino, in this movie that doesn’t matter.