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NEED FOR SPEED: 3 STARS. “a car crazy story where characters take a backseat.”

Need-For-Speed-Movie-Cast-Official-Photo-1024x574Remember the Mazda commercials that were on a few years ago? I felt like the kid from those ads was sitting on my shoulder whispering “zoom, zoom” into my ear for the entire running time of “The Hot Wheels Movie,” er…. “Need for Speed.”

Based on the most successful racing video game franchise ever, the movie is Aaron “Breaking Bad” Paul’s first lead in a feature. He plays Tobey Marshall, a speed-demon mechanic, jailed for a crime he did not commit. Out of the hoosegow with revenge against adversary Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) on his mind, he finagles a spot at the De Leon, a high-octane underground race that makes the Cannonball Run look like a kid’s Go-Kart sprint. You just know it’s only a matter of time until someone says, “We’ll settle this behind the wheel.”

Between him and the race, however, are miles of hard road, bounty hunters and police. Will his dreams of racing and revenge come true? Or will his need for speed go unfulfilled?

This is a fast paced car race movie that zips along as quickly as you’d hope a movie with the word speed in the title would, but character wise, it’s not quite as fast or furious as you might like. The cars are the stars, while the characters are largely left in the dust. The story and the characters feel like McGuffins to support the screeching tires and revving engines.

Paul, who brings a gruff Batman voice to the role, and his navigator / flirty love interest Julia (Imogen Poots) are charming and charismatic, but aren’t given much to do other than shift gears. That’s OK, this is a car movie after all, but when the story grinds its gears when it shifts from the action sequences to the human story.

Poots starts off strong, but is soon reduced to the hysterical girl role while Paul could have used a lesson or two from Jesse Pinkman in the passion department. It says something when the movie’s most interesting character—the eccentric millionaire The Monarch, played by Michael Keaton—never gets behind the wheel of a car.

I liked the race scenes. They feel authentic and by and large done by brave speed demon stunt drivers without the use of CGI. They’re exciting, pedal-to-the-metal sequences that put the audience in the driver’s seat. You may wonder about glorifying the romance of reckless street racing, but the movie isn’t a commercial for vehicular mayhem. There are some wild rides, but there are also consequences for many of the drivers and their need for speed.

“Need for Speed” isn’t “Downton Abbey.” It’s a car crazy story where characters take a backseat to the action, but if you know what a Two Lane Grasshopper is, then you’ll probably get a kick out of the driving scenes.

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