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Is "Need For Speed" the Right Kind of Dumb?

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire March 14, 2014 at 4:31PM

Critics agree the Aaron Paul-starring video game adaptation isn't aiming high, but some think it hits the mark.
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Need for Speed

When a movie's based on a video game, no one expects greatness. Best case scenario, you get some approximation of the source material's visceral thrills, and that's what, for the bigger fans of "Need For Speed," it delivers. Not everyone agrees, of course: Vulture's Bilge Ebiri suggests bringing noise-canceling headphones to drown out the dialogue, and a small handful find the relocation of console-based mayhem to the real world to be distasteful, even dangerous. Here's what they're saying:

Scott Mendelson, Forbes

In this era of willfully bad movies and intentional would-be camp "classics," there is something almost refreshing about the seemingly unintentional and thus completely sincerity awfulness of "Need For Speed."

A.O. Scott, the New York Times

An energetic, unpretentious B movie -- the kind best seen at a drive-in like the one in an early scene -- it is devoted, above all, to the delivery of visceral, kinetic excitement.

Betsy Sharkey, the Los Angeles Times

No one is asking for actual logic in these films. Part of the fun is seeing how far from reality the freewheeling stunts can take it. But a sense of the absurdity of the absurd is most definitely required too.

Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

Based on the popular video games, this is a movie with breathtakingly visceral racing scenes, and they are matched by a breathtakingly, breathtakingly terrible script.

Ignativy Vishnevetsky, the A.V. Club

Never mind whether lines like "He loved the impossible" -- spoken by one of Need For Speed’s gearheads in memory of a dead friend -- make any sense. A fast car roaring down the road, its driver gritting his teeth at each bend, makes for one hell of an image.

Matt Prigge, Metro

But, you’re asking, does the car go really, really, really fast? Yes. It goes super, mega, ultra fast, and is at one point picked up by a helicopter.

Scott Foundas, Variety

The "Fast and Furious" franchise has nothing much to worry about, but as long as the engines are humming and the gears are grinding -- which is most of the time -- "Need" is modest, diverting fun that should have at least a couple of good box office laps in it.

Tim Grierson, Paste

"Need for Speed" peddles adrenaline with a relentlessness that can be charming. But the film rarely electrifies -- more often, it just makes you jittery. And that’s when it’s not outright annoying the hell out of you.

Tim Robey, the Telegraph

Imagine "Top Gear" with Fraggles, stretch it out long past a sensible running time, et voila: a sluggish pretender, whose very title describes what’s most sorely lacking.

Geneviene Koski, the Dissolve

Some of the early street-racing scenes are too close to civilization for comfort, their excitement not quite compensating for the cavalier attitude toward casual vehicular manslaughter its characters exhibit when racing through heavily populated areas. But such collateral damage is part and parcel of the action-movie/videogame milieu, and it becomes less egregious as the film moves west and into bigger, emptier, more photogenic vistas. 

Stephen Whitty, the Star-Ledger

Our heroes don't have sex or drink or smoke, of course -- this is, after all, a Disney movie. But still -- this is a Disney movie. And that family-friendly studio thinks, in the wake of Paul Walker's death and Justin Bieber's not-quite-latest idiocy, that glorifying illegal street racing is acceptable entertainment?

Amy Nicholson, L.A. Weekly

Not to be a killjoy, but if filmmakers are going to embed pixel mayhem in the photo-real world, then they're inviting us to ask if this shit is sociopathic. Especially when you use real cars, real wrecks and layer this nonsense with a dramatic, weepy score that sounds like a drama about a dog with cancer.

Jordan Hoffman, ScreenCrush

I know "Need for Speed" is just a movie, and movies are entertainment, but it is shocking beyond all reason how much this movie thinks automotive safety is a big joke. I understand loving an outlaw, but when Bonnie and Clyde robbed banks they were "punching up." When Aaron Paul and his merry band of mayhem mechanics destroy public works and send innocent bystanders careening off of highways, they are "punching down." "Need For Speed," its producers, writers, director and maybe even its stars should all hang their heads in shame.


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