When Need for Speed was announced, it was mildly confounding. It makes sense in a world where Fast and Furious has become a billion dollar franchise, but, from a storytelling perspective, not so much. If you’re not sure why that is, you likely never played the video game series, which doesn’t have an actual narrative. Unless building up toward better cars counts as plot. That’s actually one of the few ties the movie will have to the game. If it were called anything other than Need for Speed, it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow as a potential game rip-off. This may come as a surprise, but that’s a good thing, for a variety reasons.
Disney recently held a press day for director Scott Waugh’s (Act of Valor) video game adaptation, and while in attendance, screenwriter John Gatins (Flight), who cracked the story with his brother and the film’s writer George Gatins made a strong point differentiating Need for Speed from fellow video game adaptations.
We all know it. Video game movies rarely do it for its fans and, worst of all, most audiences. Since Gatins is an Academy Award nominated writer, I was interested in why he thought some of those films failed from a narrative standpoint. Gatins see it as a problem of perspective.
“When I play Laura Croft in Tomb Raider, I have an opinion of what she would say,” explained Gatins. “Every 50 million people who play the game would say, ‘My Laura Croft wouldn’t do that!’ I think that’s a problem.”
That problem won’t arise with Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), an original character. For the Gatins brothers, they wanted to write a “simple story well told,” and that’s the impression the footage we saw gave off: a simple story (hopefully) well told. Need for Speed looks formulaic, with the blue collar amazing driver with dashing good looks avenging his buddy, but there’s something everyone at the press day agreed would make the film stand apart from the herd: practical effects.
Real cars. Real races. Real stunts. Sound too good to be true? Skepticism made sense when Waugh introduced 15 minutes of footage, but he was true to his word. The footage showed a real world with an immediacy to the action, from POV shots to plenty of intimate, in-race close-ups of Paul. Waugh wanted the action to be “all character,” even when it came down to the cars defining their drivers. The Act of Valor director took this approach all the way. When it came to straight dialogue scenes set in cars, they didn’t go for green screen. While they could have used a sound stage, Waugh wanted it to feel real, not like you’re watching an actor on a stage jerking the steering wheel around. It makes a difference, and Waugh knows that.
Even though Need for Speed has major stunts going for it, that’s not the the real draw of the film. We all know it’s Imogen Poots’ smile – an effect not even CGI could ever dream of achieving. There’s a love story in the film between Paul and Poots; characters, and what we saw of it was genuinely charming. Paul and Poots are both immensely likable, so it’s not a surprise there’s genuine chemistry there. Poots, in particular, is the star on the rise in this film. This year she has That Awkward Moment, Need for Speed, Knight of Cups, and Filth, so bet on more people knowing her name by the end of 2014.
Not only are Paul and Poots present, but so is Dominc Cooper, rounding out a notable cast. Cooper is Dino, the film’s villain. His introduction wreaked of slime, thanks to his English creep accent and black turtleneck – a dead giveaway for evil, if there ever were one. It’s likely he won’t be a tortured soul who’s taken on the role of a baddie, but a straight and narrow bad guy, responsible for the visually impressive death of Marshall’s friend.
That simplicity should work in Need for Speed’s favor. The trailer sold a comically self-serious video game adaptation, but the footage we saw proved Waugh’s film isn’t taking itself that seriously. There are honest stakes in place, but the film, based on those 15 minutes we saw, will make for an unabashed, self-aware popcorn movie where the good guys are the good guys and the bad guys where turtlenecks as nature intended. Case closed.
Most video game movies are duds, but hopefully this one proves to be different. It certainly has the potential to.
Need for Speed opens in theaters March 14th.