A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
In "Need for Speed," a character cites the oft-quoted phrase that a man in a big, flashy, expensive car "is overcompensating for something." The same can be said for this movie. It wears on its sleeve the desperation of trying to create another macho racing franchise like "The Fast and the Furious." That series had six movies to create, shape, modify and solidify its mythology. With five fewer tries, "Need for Speed" aims for "F&F's" level of goofy, fan-pleasing grandiosity while attempting the existential vengeance vibe of "Drive." The resulting mishmash is as exciting as getting a tow from AAA, and just as slow.
This type of movie was more fun—and more dangerous—when Roger Corman and other '70s B-movie producers made them. Screenwriter George Gatins hints at elements Peter Fonda or Warren Oates would have nailed, and there are moments when "Need for Speed" flirts with the darkness found in films like "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry" and "Race with the Devil."
Aaron Paul doesn't have the coolness nor the gravitas of '70s era Oates or Fonda, but I can't blame him for this film's failure. The script pulls every punch, opting for a safe, wimpy simplicity that insults the viewer. The characters who inhabit "Need for Speed" may as well be stick figures with the trope they represent written over their heads. There's not one note of interest nor complexity at all. An actor with Paul's talent deserves a better feature in which to make his leading actor debut.
Gatins' script is also so full of contrivances and coincidences that you'll be compelled to bang your head into the seat in front of you, sending your 3-D glasses flying into the air. (Note: Don't waste your money on the 3-D.) There's a sloppiness to the writing that is downright infuriating; each overly plotted moment is reconciled in ways that would get a failing grade in the cheesiest screenwriting class. It raises many "but wait…" questions, and the film is so sluggish that you'll have plenty of time to contemplate each one with disgust.