As we lean into the Spring movie season, we get two releases that are gambles, but for opposite reasons. Need for Speed is based on a video game series that is not known for having a story. It’s Aaron Paul’s first major role outside of Breaking Bad and he’s trying to prove that he can win people over without having to say his expected tagline/word. The other release, Veronica Mars, had an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, but is being released concurrently in theaters and video on demand at the same time.
Need for Speed
Aaron Paul is in a risky place in his career right now. He’s just coming off the TV role of a lifetime as Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. Each role he takes for the next few years will be compared to the popular junkie with a heart of gold. Later this year, he will be breaking new ground (for him) by starring as Joshua in Ridley Scott’s Exodus, alongside Christian Bale. His first role this year is in the video game adaptation, Need for Speed.
Paul plays Tobey Marshall, who manages a run-down mechanic shop, but also doubles as an amazing racer. He apparently has an unexplained rivalry with fellow racer, Dino (Dominic Cooper). Early in the movie, they race. Tragedy strikes, leaving Tobey to take the fall and spend two years in prison. As soon as Tobey gets out, he vies to enter a secret elite race run by millionaire vlogger, Monarch (Michael Keaton). In order to enter the race, Tobey first needs to drive from New York to California in under two days.
Okay, just forget about the plot for a bit here. The real reason to watch this type of movie is for the racing. In that way, Need for Speed delivers. Forget about the bombastic airport runway battles of Fast and Furious, this movie knows what it needs to be – simply about the cars. The producers have boasted about the practical effects used throughout the movie instead of CGI, so it earns bonus points from me. The well-shot pursuits were such a nice change from the car interior footage from movies like Getaway. If you have a Shelby Mustang in your movie, you are required to show it from the outside. Director Scott Waugh may not care about plot holes, but he knows how to capture the excitement of high-speed chases.
Aaron Paul feels superior to the role he’s playing, but he still gives it his all. Few people have a better righteous anger yell than Paul. As long as he doesn’t continue to take this sort of an action-heavy, brooding role, he’ll make it out unscathed. Otherwise, he’ll be known for that one video game movie that followed a great TV series. He is joined on this cross-country trip by Julia (Imogen Poots). I’m very happy that the writers didn’t force a love story down our throats. Michael Keaton appears in a few phone-in scenes where he did what he does best – acts like a maniac that chews the scenery. His presence gave the movie more credibility, even though he was only there for exposition.
Need for Speed is a dumb movie that takes itself a little too seriously. It’s over 2 hours long and could have been trimmed by a good half hour. The car chases are great and are the best movie pursuits I’ve seen in years. Everything surrounding the car chases is mindless. Don’t think about the plot at all and you’ll be just fine. A surprising element of the movie is the reliance on an instrumental score. Instead of just focusing on a soundtrack with high-intensity dubstep or hip-hop, this movie uses a score that could have easily been heard in Gravity.
I couldn’t help but think of Need for Speed as a ’70s B-movie. It has everything a blue collar B-movie needs from bounty hunters, a reckless hero, comic relief, plot inconsistencies and a smarmy villain. Once again, my formula for this movie is…
Rocky IV – music montages x Cannonball Run = Need for Speed
This movie never made me cringe at its stupidity, and for that I give it a rental.
Need for Speed is opening up against the slightly-limited release of Veronica Mars. This is a pretty monumental project built around a UPN/CW show that was cancelled after 3 years in 2007. Showrunner Rob Thomas took advantage of the cult fanbase fervor and started a Kickstarter fund for the movie adaptation one year ago. He asked for $2 Million and earned nearly $6 Million. The fact that fans were able to produce a movie based on a show they loved opens up endless possibilities and dream projects (Serenity 2, I’m looking at you).
Kristen Bell reprises her role as Veronica Mars. Though much has changed in her life since high school and college. She is now applying for a high-profile law firm and she is a far softer individual than the hard-nosed private eye she was in high school. Even with her attempts to move on with her life, she hears that her ex-boyfriend Logan Echolls is being implicated in the murder of his celebrity girlfriend. She visits her hometown of Neptune and what she plans to be a short visit to get the real story from Logan becomes a longer stay that puts her new career in jeopardy. Also, if you’ve seen the show, you know that Veronica’s sleuthing puts her life in danger more often than not.
Nearly everyone is back from the show, whether through cameos or minor subplots. With some of the characters, it almost feels like a minor walk-on spot from a sitcom. I’ll say this, fans will be appeased. Just don’t go looking for Duncan Kane to come back. Maybe they’ll save his return for a sequel.
The real question is, can people who haven’t seen the TV series enjoy this movie? In short, yes. Veronica Mars provides an interesting mystery that wraps up well by the movie’s end. However, several of the character quirks and motivations will be lost on them. Any new viewer might wonder why Logan is so gloomy and apathetic or why the popular girls at the Neptune High Reunion still hate Veronica. There is a 5 minute prologue that explains what went on over the course of the series and it’s good enough to give a refresher or introduce Veronica as the narrator to new fans.
If people are interested in doing a little research, I would recommend watching the first season (or two) of the show. The plot is tight and leaves you guessing throughout. Then you will understand and care for the characters.
I was surprised at how much writer/director Rob Thomas tried to fit in to the movie. By that, I mean he put in too much. In the movie’s final third, another mystery is set up in regards to “Weevil,” which implicates the corrupt police department. Very little time is spent on it and it’s left unexplained in the end. I honestly think it was an attempt to incorporate more of the original series cast and give them something relevant to do in the movie.
To fans of the series, this is the movie you have been waiting for. By that, I mean that nothing has changed. It feels like a glorified fourth season wrapped up in a 108 minute package. Marshmallows, go see this.
To new viewers, this movie will feel like a long TV episode with plenty of inside winks and nudges. Though, the mystery and pacing will keep you entertained. For these people, I recommend you watch it at home with a Veronica Mars fan, so they can explain it. Please don’t go to a theater and have someone explain it out loud.
Veronica Mars is now in limited theaters, but you can find it streaming at VUDU, Amazon, iTunes and more.