‘NEED FOR SPEED’ is ‘a clunker that belongs in the junkyard’

Reviewer’s Rating: ★ 1/2

Adapted from the video series, “The Need for Speed,” “Need for Speed,” the movie, concocts an unoriginal underdog vs. villain plot around the extremely popular, high performance auto-based game. The movie’s racing is fast and furious, but its stale storyline needs a truckload of fresh-car scent.

“Need for Speed’s” screenwriters inject a pair of stereotypical principal characters into the game’s races and police pursuits. The cross-country action begins in New York and culminates with a high-stakes competition in northern California. The plot and the acting may be weak, but the movie apparently stays true to its source. It plays more like a video game than a story.

“Need for Speed” employs one of Hollywood’s older clichés. Working-class hero Tobey Marshall, played by the one-dimensional Aaron Paul, is a young man in a small town whose father has recently died. The family’s business, Marshall Performance Motors, is in financial trouble. Foreclosure on the garage is likely.

Tobey, hoping to keep his shop open, accepts a dare from his rival, Dino Brewster. Dominic Cooper’s Dino is even more one-dimensional than Paul’s Tobey. Paul glares into the camera when he puts his character’s game face on and enters his racing zone. Cooper’s game face is a sneer. His Dino dresses in villain black and has absolutely no conscience.

“Need for Speed” pairs Tobey with a devoted shop crew and racing team. There’s Finn (Rami Malek), Joe (Ramon Rodriguez) and requisite funny guy Benny (Scott Mescudi). The team’s versatile pilot, Benny can fly any aircraft he manages to steal or borrow.

Tobey’s team also includes Little Pete, played by young heartthrob Harrison Gilbertson. Pete is the younger brother of Tobey’s ex-girlfriend, Anita, played by Dakota Johnson, model-actress and daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. It’s easy to guess that fresh young Pete is destined for tragedy.

In a storyline involving dozens of high-performance cars racing on public streets amidst normal traffic, casualties can be expected. The danger of such racing moved from the movie screen to reality when Paul Walker, one of the stars of the hit “Fast & Furious” auto-thriller series, was killed in November. “The Need for Speed” arrives soon after the actor’s fiery death in a high-performance car.

A video game is one thing but actors portraying characters in a realistic live-action film in which characters endanger themselves and every average driver in their vicinity feels overdone. Even the movie’s heroes are committing reckless endangerment, again and again and again. The same goes for Michael Keaton’s lively role as the rich, Webcasting racing fan who sponsors the annual Deleon race.

A plot that turns back to the old wrongly imprisoned-revenge scenario is another sign that “Need for Speed” is not up to speed. Critics across the country, pros and amateurs, will be using myriad auto references to call “Need for Speed” a clunker that belongs in the cinema junkyard.