March 14, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: Vacant 'Need for Speed' powered by flimsy fumes

Star Aaron Paul is probably best known as Jesse in 'Breaking Bad.' (Melinda Sue Gordon / DreamWorks II)

Perhaps all actors have the urge to look tough on screen.

Or perhaps all actors crave an action franchise, the sort of easy money train that can bring in millions for years to come.

Or maybe it’s as simple as this: Good actors don’t necessarily have good taste.

Whatever the explanation, it’s still jarring to see two-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul, coming off “Breaking Bad,” arguably the best TV series of the past decade, starring in a lunkheaded, cheeseball, vacuous and repetitive video game film adaptation like “Need for Speed.” Especially in light of “Smashed,” the meditation on alcoholism Paul did a couple of years back that showed “Breaking Bad” was no fluke.

“Need for Speed” is every bit as stupid as it sounds. Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a small-town, “blue collar” (the term is used repeatedly) mechanic and street racer with huge potential and modest ambitions.

An old nemesis, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper, who might as well have “Evil” tattooed on his forehead), hires Tobey and his happy-go-lucky crew to fix up the world’s most expensive car for resale. Which they do, and that somehow leads to a street race where Dino kills Tobey’s best friend but pins the wreckage on Tobey.

Tobey goes to jail for a couple of years, gets out and immediately takes off on a cross-country trip with a beautiful, blond British woman (Imogen Poots), breaking all speed limits and driving cops crazy as they try to make it to the ultimate street race in California, where Tobey will face off against — you guessed it — Dino Brewster.

In other words, this film’s narrative is basically street race, introduction of hot blonde, street race with fiery explosion, cross-country street race with cars crashing everywhere and hot blonde in passenger seat, high-flying stunt scene, car crash, and then — for something completely different — another street race garnished with multiple car crashes.

The whole thing makes a “Fast & Furious movie” look Shakespearean in comparison. At least in those films Vin Diesel paused from time to time to flex his biceps and Paul Walker offered some grimly determined looks. “Need for Speed,” on the other hand, is so relentlessly linear — go, go, go — as it moves from this situation to the next that it feels like a video game.

Oh, wait. That’s right. It is a video game.

Oh, sure, there’s some light macho banter from Tobey’s happy-go-lucky crew for (supposed) comic relief. At one point, someone says a hairpin turn sequence looks like “Speed” (they wish). And Tobey drops by Detroit (the film was partly shot here) to zip through some alleys and destroy some cop cars. What fun.

There probably are people whose souls are fulfilled by endless car crashes, big-wheel fantasies and constant vehicular mayhem in which innocent people are undoubtedly maimed for life. “Need for Speed” may bring them joy beyond description.

But anyone interested in character, story, human interaction, meaning or thoughtfulness had best steer clear of this movie. Honestly, Aaron Paul, what were you thinking?

'Need for Speed'

GRADE: D

Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language

Running time: 130 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
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'Need for Speed,' which stars two-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul of 'Breaking ... (DreamWorks II Distribution Co.)
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