NEED FOR SPEED (PG13)
131 minutes/Opens on Thursday/**1/2
Small-town car customiser Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) takes up an offer to race pompous professional driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper).
The street race leads to a death. Marshall is framed and, emerging from prison, seeks vengeance by competing against Brewster in the De Leon, a famed underground race.
To his dismay, Marshall's sponsor forces him to travel to the race with a manager, Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots). Based on the video game series of the same name.
Torqued, sprayed in day-glo shades and buffed to a mirror shine, this work of auto-erotica nods frantically to cult car movies such as Bullitt (1968) in an attempt at credibility, but the homage only makes the film look like a humdrum family saloon in comparison.
The story here serves as a wrapper for a core based on a racing simulation game series, rated the world's No. 1 in sales in its category.
Never having played the game, this reviewer cannot say if the movie is true to the game's style of play or if it contains an adequate number of fan-pleasing in-jokes and references.
One thing is certain: Non-gamers will find it distinctly lacking in get-up-and-go.
The problem is not that the premise stems from a video game; see The Lego Movie for how a solid movie can result from the slimmest of origins.
Paul is also a solid actor, transitioning well from Emmy-winning character player (on the Breaking Bad series, which recently ended) to big-screen leading man.
His agile presence makes for a refreshing change from the usual order of stoic, barely verbal beefcake associated with roles like this.
But director Scott Waugh (Act Of Valor, 2012) dials everything down to a moody growl, when the material he is working with (car pornography, the va-va-voom notion of a hottie such as Poots' Julia forced to travel cross-country with Marshall) screeches for Michael Bay-like excess.
Waugh, a former stuntman, seems embarrassed by the luridness of the material. His camera, for example, barely takes note of Poots' ample charms, so much so that the absence of leering becomes distracting, oddly enough.
His praiseworthy lack of a pornographic sensibility extends to his no-nonsense manner in showing off the parade of vehicles, ranging from American muscle-car classics to exotic European models with appropriately masculine Teutonic names.
The race sequences and crashes are interesting, not so much for their use of real steel (no computer models here), but for their sheer loudness; this reviewer walked out of the cinema with eardrums as shattered as the movie's road wrecks.
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