Adaptation old-fashioned fun

GRAEME TUCKETT
Last updated 05:00 22/03/2014
Need for Speed
AARON PAUL: Brings a kind of gravitas to Need for Speed.

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FILM REVIEW: NEED FOR SPEED (M)
Directed by Scott Waugh


Years back, at a film festival, I saw a Danish film called In China They Eat Dogs.

It was an action movie, chock full of bank robberies, fights and car chases. It was exactly the sort of film people who don't go to film festivals think that film festivals don't show. It was also absolutely get-up-on-your-feet-cheering great.

And the one thing I remember very clearly about In China They Eat Dogs; except for the dodgy title, the fantastic action sequences, and the mostly inconsequential storyline that existed only as a framework to hang more and more outrageous stunts on, was that it was made by a former stuntman, at least partly as an employment scheme for him and his mates.

I was thinking about In China They Eat Dogs while watching Need For Speed. Not because anyone involved in this project is short of a dollar or a job offer. But because, like the Danish film, Need For Speed is directed by a former stunt man and stunt co-ordinator. And believe me, it shows.

Maybe only a stuntman in the director's chair would have eschewed all the seductive money-saving digital effects, and insisted on doing everything for real that could possibly be done.

I know that Need For Speed is still full of digital trickery, and owes plenty to the talents of the computer effects artists, but the key stunts - the Big Moments - are as much as possible performed for real, by stunt drivers in cars, with the cameras rolling. And for that reason at least, Need For Speed is a film to be celebrated.

The story is perfunctory to the point of silliness, as befits a film based on a video game. Among the cast, only Imogen Poots and Dominic Cooper really register. Poots - playing the pommy girl in the co-driver's seat - is at least a few degrees odder than American films usually cast this most traditional of roles. While Cooper, as the ex-racing champion baddy, is having so much fun it's hard not to laugh every time he sneers a line of dialogue. Cooper has set his phasers to "old school villainy", and all but twirls his moustache as he races towards his inevitable come-uppance.

As the hero, the ostensible star Aaron Paul doesn't really grow into the role, but is never less than watchable, and that always-on-the-verge-of-imploding angst he trademarked as Jessie in Breaking Bad at least brings a spurious kind of gravitas to the film's dafter moments. Around these three, the support cast are all energetic and good humoured.

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It's half-an-hour too long, and the dialogue is mostly atrocious, but even these flaws only add to the film's indefinable sense of authenticity.

With massive nods to Two Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point and, err, Smokey and The Bandit, and with a some genuine wit, daring, and energy in its delivery, Need For Speed is an old-fashioned and very likeable film.

- The Dominion Post

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