THE list of games made into movies is not an illustrious one; the weekly live-action series of FIFA is OK, but the Saints don’t win as many I’d hope.
So, the wider expectations for Need for Speed are probably not high. You would expect fans of the hugely-successful series of games will watch it.
And people who like big, loud, escapist action movies.
That’ll be most of us, then.
Those who like intelligent, subtle or thought-provoking cinema probably won’t find much sustenance here, but for everyone else there’s Need for Speed.
Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays Tobey Marshall – a monosyballic street racer and garage owner – who winds up racing his more successful rival, the sickly suave Dino (Kidbrooke’s Dominic Cooper), to prove who’s best.
Paul makes a convincing leading man, with a troubled growl and a scowl, but an air of vulnerability.
Tobey’s wet blanket mate Pete gets embroiled in the race and, as the 270mph Koenigsegg cars zoom in and out of traffic and the wrong way up dual carriageways, you get the feeling that kind of reckless driving will see them wind up either dead or in jail.
Daft Pete gets shunted off by Dino and dies in a fireball. You’ll empathise with Dino’s motivation for scarpering and quickly reporting the motors stolen, but Tobey stays behind for his very-obviously-dead mate.
The upshot is Tobey goes to clink for nicking the car (innocent), manslaughter (mostly innocent – he was driving like a berk) and presumably a raft of motoring offences (outrageously guilty). See, drive like a fool and you’ll end up dead or in jail.
Coming out of prison after a two-year stretch, Tobey is bent on revenge.
The revenge comes in the form of beating Dino – and all others – in the Super Bowl of street races, the De Leon.
In order to enter, Tobey has to make it 45 hours across the country to California.
He scores a £3m Mustang on the condition that he has to take a sassy but plummy English girl played wonderfully by Imogen Poots, who gives what could have been a very one-dimensional role a bit of depth.
What ensues is essentially a road movie, where Tobey struggles to make it to the race.
Is there anything quite as enduring as the classic American road movie?
Need for Speed doesn’t have the complexity of, say, Badlands, but it makes up for it with breathtaking cinematography.
Making their way across the country, the couple (and that’s what they’re destined to become) put the old team from the garage back together Blues Brothers-stylee, flee police, bounty hunters and come to terms with each other.
Though the script isn’t as full of tension-relieving one-liners as it probably hopes, there are some sharp points.
One extended LOL comes when Tobey zooms into Detroit to pick up his old chum Joe (Ramon Rodriguez) who has been working in an office since leaving the garage.
Rather than simply walk out of his job, Joe strips off completely starkers. When asked why, he replies “to make sure I never go back”. Sound reasoning.
In the final third, the movie goes into overdrive and is essentially narrated by Michael Keaton’s full-on, delightfully whacko race organiser-cum-commentator.
And as he handily reminds us: “This ain’t just about racing.”
What follows is full-on, high octane crashing and smashing – just like a furious half hour on Need for Speed on the computer.
It’s utterly ludicrous, but in a pleasing way.
There’s racing, police and plenty of expensive supercar smashing.
The stunts are a marvel. Director Scott Waugh has a long history as a stunt expert and it shows.
He pulls out all of the stops which more than distracts from a predictable ending.
In a nutshell, that’s the whole movie. While there’s more depth than I expected, the draw is how gorgeous the picture looks and how well crafted the scene-chewing is.
No one who sees the ‘two lane grasshopper’ stunt is likely to forget it, nor the swooping apache helicopters.
The film looks gorgeous – a cast of top cars, stunning scenery beautifully shot and well chewed.
Everything about it looks slick, like the hyper reality of video games.
We know of one fatality in the film, but with all the crashes we witness in these 130 minutes, ambulance crews and probably undertakers would be working a lot of overtime.
In Need for Speed, subtlety is out but absorbing action is definitely in.
Need for Speed is out Wednesday (March 12).