The difficult transition from television actor to movie star is well documented. For every Robin Williams there’s a Jennifer Aniston, yet few actors have flourished on the drool box like Aaron Paul. The brooding buck with the sultry drawl cultivated a loyal fan base with a terrific performance in one of the best written, best directed television series of all time, Breaking Bad. Arguably Need for Speed demonstrates the difficulties in promoting talent from what’s arguably a golden age of American TV to the big screen, namely whereas the money and status is still superior, it’s no longer, in any creative sense, a promotion at all, rather a switch to a medium where writing increasingly takes a back seat in contrast to the HBO legacy of long form, complexed storytelling.
Need for Speed may be a conscious attempt on Paul’s part at changing gear (yes, they’ll be a few motoring puns in this review), affording the opportunity to cut loose and star in something uncomplicated and throwaway, because who doesn’t crave a cheeseburger after six years of monk’s beard risotto, but equally it could be a stab at finding a star, er, vehicle, based on an unenviable choice of projects offered to a hot property whom Hollywood doesn’t know how to use. In any event Paul should be careful. His burgeoning movie career can take a couple of false starts like this, but surely not too many. Watching him awkward, underutilised and malnourished from a screenplay that’s put structure front and centre, you want to say to him, “hold out for better, Aaron – you’re not just a pretty face”.
Still, Need for Speed is no disaster, just a game conversion that lacks spark and memorable characters. The heavily trailed driving sequences, that take an old school approach to stunt work and editing, are enjoyable, dare one say adrenaline generating, but the movie’s “loose” to use a mechanic’s parlance. Writer George Gatins, conscious that game-to-film adaptations often flounder because the concept won’t fill a movie’s running time, invests in motivation and plot complications. What’s neglected is dialogue, humour and character development – the stuff that tunes the engine. Without them you have a film that’s flat when anyone speaks, indifferent to characterisation and flabby between setpieces: a movie that’s twenty minutes too long and not involving enough by half.
Director Scott Waugh can take a bow for showing flashes of style and an aptitude for kinetic action but the burgeoning relationship between Paul and Imogen Poots lacks chemistry (perhaps Aaron’s consciously avoiding it) while the driving, though exciting, isn’t quite enough compensation for the story it’s subbing for. In short, a movie that hopes to emulate the likes of Bullitt, alluding to it often, is a blank.