STRIFE IN THE FAST LANE Aaron Paul plays a street racer seeking vengeance in Need for Speed .
Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon

It’s okay to sniff at Need for Speed at first glance. After all, Aaron Paul did. The Breaking Bad star admitted that making a racing movie based on a popular video game didn’t sound like a shrewd career move at first. But then he read the script: “I could relate to this character,” he told EW in January. “I kind of had a personal connection with Tobey Marshall, the guy I play. And it’s very character driven. It’s very story driven. It has a lot of grit and lot of heart. Just so much emotion, and that’s why I jumped aboard.”

Are you going to doubt Jesse Pinkman?

Okay, here’s the plot: Tobey is an upstate New York gear-head who’s framed for the vehicular death of his best friend and spends two years in prison. When he’s released, he speeds cross-country with a pretty girl (Imogen Poots) in a suped-up Mustang to enter a million-dollar underground street race in order to exact revenge against the villainous racer (Dominic Cooper) who set him up. You would not be wrong to expect some high-speed excitement and highway carnage.

EW’s Keith Staskiewicz didn’t exactly buy into it, writing, “Beneath all that chrome plating, this vehicle is a well-used car. Need for Speed is just another pileup in Hollywood’s long accident report of taking games from the couch to the theater seat.”

Click below to see what other top critics think before getting behind the wheel to see Need for Speed.

Keith Staskiewicz (Entertainment Weekly)

“While the movie is flashy and might give some adrenaline junkies a fix, there’s almost nothing under the hood. The story is tired, the dialogue’s an assemblage of clichés, and even the action sequences, which lack the pop and imagination of other recent revved-up joyrides like Fast & Furious 6, feel as if they’re from another era.”

Steven Rea (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“The geeky camaraderie that starts Need for Speed — with Tobey and his garage mates (Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez) working on muscle cars, angsting about girls, hanging out — feels like a Disneyfied version of Rebel Without a Cause, and the deadly game of 150 m.p.h. chicken that happens later on does, too.”

Bill Zwecker (Chicago Sun-Times)

“While this film is based on the video game franchise of the same name, Need for Speed is much more an homage to the macho car-culture flicks of the ’60s and ’70s, like Bullitt, Vanishing Point, Grand Prix or even The French Connection.”

Bilge Ebiri (New York) ▼

“Racing movies are supposed to be stupid, right? They’re supposed to not make any sense and make you chuckle at their silliness. True, and Need for Speed has an idea of the kind of stupid movie it wants to be. But stupidity and incompetence are two very different things, and this movie isn’t smart enough to be as stupid as it wants.”

Claudia Puig (USA Today) ▼

“With dozens of crashes, injuries and possible deaths caused by the street racers in Need for Speed, what stands out most is the story’s callous disregard for human life.”

A.O. Scott (New York Times)

Need for Speed opens up a few generic cans of feeling, the ones labeled Betrayal and Honor. It stirs in characters a bit less distinctive than the average game avatar … and sets them off in pursuit of something vaguely archetypal. ‘This is about much more than racing!’ someone exclaims. But also much less.”

Marc Bernardin (Hollywood Reporter)

Need For Speed is a flat, sexless movie that seems not to understand why people like to sit in the driver’s seat and rev that big engine: Because of the transgressive rumble in your nethers.”

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (The A.V. Club)

Need For Speed’s dialogue-centric scenes are often clunky, and its comic relief is at times embarrassingly unfunny, but whenever [director and co-editor Scott Waugh (Act Of Valor)] shifts his focus to figuring out how to best convey an ingenious practical stunt with the camera, the movie comes alive.”

Scott Foundas (Variety)

“Tobey, by contrast, is built Ford-tough, and Paul plays the part with the flinty, tightly wound charisma of a small man who makes up in moxie what he lacks in stature. There’s something of the young James Cagney in him, and he’s by far the best thing Need for Speed has going for it.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)

“Paul, so skeevily lovable as Jesse Pinkman, Walter White’s second banana and damaged conscience, shuts down and plays terse, a la Ryan Gosling in Drive. The most interesting thing about the character is the Pinkman-esque doubt that keeps leaking into Tobey’s eyes, but the movie’s not interested in that. He’s just our game avatar.”

Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times)

“A little redemption is brought by [Imogen] Poots. In whatever role she is given, the British actress ups the quality level any time she’s on screen…. [Her Julia Maddon is] quickly on Tobey’s side … and their cross-country race to get Tobey and the Mustang into the De Leon is among the movie’s best moments.”

Need for Speed

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 38

Rotten Tomatoes: 21 percent

Rated: PG-13

Length: 130 minutes

Director: Scott Waugh

Starring Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton

Distributor: Disney

Need for Speed
  • Movie
  • 131 minutes