Adapted from a video game “Need for Speed” must convert video game players from driving hopped up cars to viewers experiencing that same rush while watching the film. Much like the “Fast & Furious” franchise, the film’s milieu is the illegal street-racing scene, although “Need” offers a slight variation on the theme.
The film’s hero, Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), resides in his small hometown as the owner-operator of a garage inherited from his pop. Tobey specializes in building and repairing hot rods. The opening scenes establish Tobey as an ethical sort poised to lose the garage due to the economic downturn. That would be a shame since Tobey and his handful of mechanics (who also function as his besties and racing crew) have decked out the place as an ideal workspace and man-cave replete with a big screen TV, comfy couches and the latest racing games.
An early race makes it evident that Tobey and the guys operate like a well-oiled machine. Benny (Scott Mescudi), sporting comedic swagger and bravado, pilots a slightly bruised Cessna to scout the race course for Tobey from the sky. Like the others, Benny exhibits admirable loyalty to Tobey. Theirs is surely a fascinating history, but we learn little about it. Instead, the film offers up Tobey’s privileged rival, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), a spoiled rich boy bankrolled in NASCAR by his family who tried to ruin Tobey’s happiness by stealing his girl (Dakota Johnson).
Suddenly Dino shows up offering Tobey a 25 percent share of a precious Ford Mustang, its modifications unfinished following the death of racing royalty Carroll Shelby. Dino’s buyer will pay two million dollars for the car providing it tops 230 mph — no problem for Tobey and his crew.
In one grand maneuver, greedy Dino swindles Tobey out of his share, then frames Tobey for killing his own friend.
The film fast forwards two years when Tobey, newly released from prison, makes a deal with the Mustang’s owner to race it in the De Leon, a secretive, exclusive cross-country event offering a lucrative million-dollar prize.
Tobey needs the money and, more importantly, wants to settle the score with Dino, who has arrogantly bet the future of his luxury car dealership on the outcome of the De Leon.
Masterminding and sponsoring the De Leon, reclusive Monarch (Michael Keaton) is an Internet phenom who seemingly has eyes on every great driver stateside.
However there is a hitch: Tobey is required to bring along Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), the Mustang owner’s agent. The film attempts to beef up its plot by using Tobey’s resentment of the pretty, but tough, young woman’s presence in his passenger seat, while he has yet to discover whether she’s worthy of his trust.
The plot represents the stereotypical male fantasy about conquering the world with the right cause and in the right fast, shiny car. It works as well as it does due to Aaron Paul’s sensitive portrayal and his chemistry with Poots, but mainly because the car action (comprising 80 percent of the film) is frequently a gas that doesn’t leave you choking on fumes.