2014-03-14

Need For Speed – The Glory of the Cars

by Yo Snyder

In one of the reviews I’ve read for Need for Speed it was mentioned that the film felt like it was from
“another era”. For them, that was a detriment; one of the key reasons it wasn’t
as good as it could have been. It’s funny how sometimes people can see the
exact same things but have entirely different interpretations of it. I agree
that Need for Speed feels like it’s
from another era, but I felt like that was one of the film’s few strengths.
It’s imbued with a 1950’s greaser sensibility and owes a lot to the classic car
chase sequences of the 60’s and 70’s. Personally, I found that to be a
refreshing change from the completely over-the-top, CG enhanced frenzy of
certain other franchises that involve either racing cars or changing (perhaps
transforming is a better word) cars. Need
for Speed
dared to do things the old fashioned way – real cars, real
drivers, real stunts – and I found that to be a refreshing thrill. The cars and
their sequences are the real stars of this film, which leaves the plot and
actors who populate it as mere filler, which isn’t exactly a formula for a
great movie. However, Need for Speed
is really better than it has any right to be.

If you were to ask me anything about the characters in this
movie, I wouldn’t be able to tell you much because…well, there isn’t much to
tell. There’s the Good Guy (aka the Guy from Breaking Bad), who does a fine job
as the stoic, strong silent guy with a heart of gold. There’s the Little
Brother of the Good Guy Who’s Destined to Die (no spoiler there, it’s about as
cliché as you can get), there’s the Bad Guy who conveniently wears black, just
in case you weren’t sure he’s the bad guy, there’s the Former Girlfriend, the
Girl Who’s Initially Annoying but Will Eventually be the Girlfriend, there’s
the Comedic Friend, the Quirky Friend Who’s a Really Good Mechanic, and the
Unswervingly Loyal Friend. That’s the cast. Who are they? What are their names?
I have no idea, they’re mostly there to drive the cars. Oh, and then there’s
Michael Keaton. He actually has an amusing role, but honestly, for the most
part he could just be called Mr. Exposition as he’s basically there to tells us
what’s happening and why, just in case we aren’t sure ourselves.

If the characters are basically cardboard cutouts, the plot
is even more two dimensional. It’s standard, it’s cliché, but it serves its
purpose and serves it well enough. Indeed, I was impressed that this movie did
such a fine job of walking the line between not taking itself too seriously but
being just serious enough for it be engaging. That’s a tough balance, but for
the most part Need for Speed handles
it well.

One amusing scene is where the Quirky Friend Who’s a Really
Good Mechanic quits his cubicle-job to help the Good Guy win the Important
Race. As he rides down the elevator naked (long story) with a lady from
accounting, he asks her if she doesn’t feel like she’s slowly dying inside
(because, you know, if you’re not doing something thrilling and living on the
edge like racing cars, then life is meaning less). She replies with a very
emphatic, very desperate, very poignant, “Yes!
To be honest, I thought that was the saddest moment in the film. Here were two
people who felt trapped, one thought he was finally liberated by returning to
his passion of cars (and his casting off of corporate clothing) and the other
realizing not only was she trapped but that she probably wasn’t brave enough to
strip down and make a break for freedom like Quirky Friend. It’s sad because so
many people feel just that way; trapped and slowly dying in their meaningless
lives. Not all of us can strip down and go race cars for a living, so what’s
the answer to that dying feeling brought on by the mundanity of life? Is there
any sort of answer for it? Would I be asking these questions if I didn’t think
there was some sort of answer?

Jesus Christ brought us an answer to that feeling of slowly
dying inside; himself. In fact, one of the reasons for his even being here was
to bring live, life more abundantly, life to the full, eternal life (John
10:10). In essence Jesus was saying that all the meaning, all the purpose, all
the things we need to feel truly alive can be found in none other than him. One
may wonder how that works; how Jesus can provide more life and freedom than the
thrill of street racing or of following one’s passion. Well, to put into Need for Speed terms, in order to get
the most of a car, you would go to the mechanic who built it. In the same way,
to really understand how to get the most out of life, to find what it really
means to live life to the full, it would only make sense to go to the mechanic
of that life, the author and creator of it; and that’s Jesus. How can he bring
us life to the full, simply because he knows exactly what that is and what it
should mean for each of our lives. An intriguing prospect, wouldn’t you say, and
something that give hope to that poor lady from accounting who had to endure an
elevator ride with the naked Quirky Friend Who’s a Really Good Mechanic.

Need for Speed isn’t a great film, but it’s a fun film. The
cars are the stars, and they look and sound amazing. There’s a bit too much shaky
camera work used; had it been more sparing it would have been far more
effective. The plot is entirely predictable, but it capably delivers what it
needs to. Best of all, the movie pays homage to its video game roots, with many
elements and call outs taken from Need for Speed Shift, Need for Speed The Run,
and Need for Speed Rivals. By the end of the movie, I was ready to go home and
grab my controller to try and recreate some of those thrilling chases for
myself. Yes, this movie feels like it’s from another era, but for me that
worked. I loved seeing an old school approach to making exciting car chases,
and while the plot and characters were as two dimensional as you can get, every
time the cars revved their engines, I was having a great time.

Score: 5 of 7 – There
are smatterings of bad language throughout the film and some mild sensuality,
and there’s some pretty intense sequences as well. All in all, though, this on
the mild side of PG-13. The score really should be lower, but the cars are just
too cool for me to score any lower than a 5.