Skip to main content

I really love Piers Morgan!

Need for Speed
(2014)

(SPOILERS) The elusive potential goldmine that is the video game adaptation. How many have been a success? Critically, next to none. Commercially, the Resident Evil series is about it. There are the precious few first instalments that instilled apathy (Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat), but the odds are seriously against any lucky feeling studio making any serious dough. That may change (there are several interesting names attached to several interesting projects) but it wont be this year. Need for Speed will probably make a profit when all’s told, but as an attempt to cash in on the success of the Fast & Furious franchise it fizzles, and as a prospective dumb-but-fun auto-racing movie it’s a dud.


I think it’s probably fair to suggest that the only way to approach a big cross-country pursuit movie is not to treat it entirely seriously, particularly since the scenario where taking off as an act of rebellion against society and the squares while dogged by the fuzz has long since lacked resonance (like, since the ‘70s). Director Scott Waugh seems oblivious to this, treating the whole affair with a crippling lack of levity (and what there is, is painfully forced). 


A stunt co-ordinator turned director (his first was Act of Valor), Waugh knows where to put the camera (he’s especially fond of in-car shots –so you know the actors were really there!) but on this evidence he has problems editing his action together coherently. The results remind me of the choppy work that litters Simon West’s early career. Speaking of which, there are also attempts at Bruckheimer-esque rousing airborne panorama shots with that old favourite of the constantly moving camera; they’re passé though, aping older and better movies. The picture as a whole feels like everyone involved has been second-guessing, but that shouldn’t be a surprise given the abundance of missteps DreamWorks has made lately. Any given choice is likely to be a bad one, unless the ‘berg himself is involved.


His involvement here extended to picking Aaron Paul for the plum role of Tobey Marshall, a former racer out for revenge after old rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper, knowing that the only thing to do with a role like his is relish the irredeemable villainy) not only gets his pal killed in an impromptu road race but lies about it to boot. Two years later, out of jail and on parole, Marshall assembles his old crew of garage buddies with a revenge plan that entails getting picked for the De Leon, a race organised by racing buff Monarch (Michael Keaton); the winner takes the other competitors’ cars (not much point if they’ve all crashed en route, I’d have thought). This requires attracting the requisite attention (and thus an invite from Monarch) and reaching the venue in a madcap 48-hour drive from New York to California.


Waugh’s decision to eschew CGI is admirable but, when a script is as wholly ludicrous as this one, attempts at realism are entirely misplaced. If you don’t play this knowingly, you look very silly and, with a grim-faced payback plot at the core, that’s exactly what Need for Speed quickly becomes. Instead of thriving on the clichés it exhumes, the movie is buried by them. There’s none of the infectious fun of the (best of the) Fast & Furious series, and the ensemble of Marshall’s helpers strain for absent chemistry and empty laughs (Harrison Gilbertson, Scott Mescudi, Ramon Rodriguez and an especially irritating Rami Malek; he wants to be exuberant and cheeky but is just loud and annoying).


There are attempts to circumnavigate the gross irresponsibility of these young hoodlums and then their petrol head antics – Mescudi provides an air spotting service to ensure members of the public don’t get run over – but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that pretty much everything that happens is a result of Tobey’s brashness and rashness. Yeah, Dino is a massive wanker, but Tobey continually rises to the bait. He gets involved in a business deal to rebuild a Ford Shelby Mustang when his chums warn him against it.  And then, when he has his profit in the bag (assuming Dino doesn’t stiff him), he childishly risks everything to massage his ego and jumps into a race that results in one of his friends getting killed. 



Later he unveils his plan to get even, but it’s unfathomable quite how he expects this to play out since everything that happens is either the result of Julia (Imogen Poots) rallying to his side or the result of enormously lucky coincidences (one of the cast even has to ask “Why wouldn’t he destroy it?” of the car Dino used to ram Tobey’s pal off the road; it’s the old “trick” of, if you’ve got a really, really, stupid plot development in store, draw attention to it in the hope audiences will just accept what’s in full view). Then, instead of having a sensibly recuperative night-in pre-race, and having antagonised Dino whom he knows is a psycho, Tobey goes out for a drive and acts surprised when someone puts him in a car wreck.


This might be less of a problem if Paul exuded anything but dead-eyed intensity. Spielberg liked him, as does everyone, for Breaking Bad, but on the evidence of this he doesn’t have what it takes as a leading man (which is fine, a good supporting actor often gets better parts). The danger is, Paul might end up being seen as one-trick pony. Can he play other types? Stony severity isn’t the boost this movie needed, and it’s left to both the Brits to take the acting honours.


There’s something a bit weasely about Cooper that makes him perfect for bad guys but unconvincing as heroes. He’s sensible enough to betray not an ounce of humanity as Dino (Dakota Johnson, who I understand is supposed to be a next big thing, barely registers as his girlfriend; also Tobey’s ex and the sister of the poor wee lamb who gone done and got blew up). The real star of the show is Poots, however, who has a habit of shining in less-than-sterling roles. She turns the posh “tart” (as Monarch calls her) role to her advantage, and ekes a fair degree of amusement playing off Paul’s impassive petulance. She also inspires a line no one would countenance on this side of the Atlantic (one would hope for better across the Pond too, and I’m going to charitably assume it was meant ironically); “I really love Piers Morgan!


It’s the only memorable line here, with one caveat. The chases don’t linger in the mind either. There needed to be a Roscoe P Coltrane type in hot pur-suit of Tobey, rather than Waugh wasting time (this film is drastically over-long) on him driving the wrong way up streets or – almost, only almost, likeably stupid, since the amount of effort involved would have made it much quicker to stop for a couple of minutes – refuelling in transit. Nothing here is cool, and nor are any of the sequences suitably adrenalising.  To misquote the estimable Point Break, Need is young, dumb, and... really dumb. Even with all the havoc and mayhem caused, all the lives endangered, and the ruination of homeless folks’ shopping trolleys, Tobey is such a wonderful chap that he saves Dino at a crucial moment. The problem isn’t that; it’s that there’s no spirit here, no joie de vivre. Tobey isn’t about a need for freedom and expressing his individuality; he’s all unrefined rictus rancor.


The races themselves – topping and tailing the movie - have little sense of route, geography or opponents (aside from Dino); the kind of fundamentals required to make such automotive antics engaging. Waugh must take the co-blame as co-editor. The cinematography is bold and bright, but wasted amid the general incoherence. The soundtrack is just a loud mess, which matches the general tone. The screenplay, credited to George Gatins, is telling his first (brother John gets a story credit; his past efforts include the poxy Real Steel and half decent Flight).


The caveat I mentioned earlier relates to Keaton, who is an incongruous kind of car enthusiast, but whose improv (“Racers should race, cops should eat donuts”) gives the picture a turbo charge whenever he appears – even if it’s just by way of voiceover. Keaton’s profile has lifted recently, which is long overdue. On this evidence (he’s also one of the better things in the Robocop remake) he’s in fine shape and of suitably quick mind should Beetlejuice 2 ever get off the ground.





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

I want to see what love looks like when it’s triumphant. I haven’t had a good laugh in a week.

It Happened One Night (1934)
(SPOILERS) In any romantic comedy worth its salt, you need to be rooting for both leads to end up together. That’s why, while each has its individual pleasures – and one is an unchallenged classic in every other department – the triptych of Andie McDowell ‘90s romcoms (Green Card, Groundhog Day and Four Weddings and a Funeral) fail on that score; she doesn’t elicit any degree of investment (ironically, she’s much better as a knockabout nun doing a dolphin impression in Hudson Hawk). Even Hanks and Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle are merely likeable; you can’t get that caught up if there aren’t any sparks flying (Crystal and Ryan, though). It Happened One Night has sparks in spades, the back and forth between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert ensuring it’s as vital and versatile today as it was 85 years ago.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.