It's difficult to understand how a movie about fast cars, tough guys and feisty women could be so little fun to watch. But the filmmakers, working from a popular videogame, have managed to make something only a gaming nerd could love. It's strikingly well shot, with a likeable cast and an eye-catching use of real stuntwork, but the limp script leaves it utterly joyless. Just a tiny hint of self-awareness goes a long way in these kinds of movies.
Our hero is Toby (Paul), a super-talented driver and mechanic stuck in small-town New York while his high school rival Dino (Cooper) makes millions on the racing circuit. Dino has also stolen Toby's ex-girlfriend (Johnson), and rubs salt in the wound by asking Toby to fix up a wildly valuable Mustang for him. Toby needs the cash to save his garage, so takes on the job with his pals (Cudi, Malek and Rodriguez). But things take a dark turn when Dino leaves Toby to take the fall for manslaughter. And when he gets out of prison two years later, Toby vows to get revenge, working with hellcat racing chick Julia (Poots) to enter the underground winner-take-all race organised by a radio deejay (Keaton).
Despite trying to fool us with various plot twists, the film's script is so by-the-books that we can predict everything that will happen next. So as it heads to its jaw-droppingly implausible finale, there isn't a single moment that surprises us. All we can do is try to engage with the characters, but they take themselves so seriously that this isn't easy. Clearly, director Waugh is much more interested in the cars than the people. So at least the driving scenes are visceral and sometimes thrilling in that choreographed stunt-driver sort of way. And they're notable because there isn't a digital effect in sight.
But watching cool cars zoom around and crash spectacularly isn't a lot of fun without a meaningful story or characters. The actors are relatively watchable in the rare moments when they aren't glowering and grunting manfully. Even the comic relief characters like Poots and Cudi seem to be working too hard. And if we can't see them having any fun making the movie, it's a fair bet that we won't have much fun watching it.
Run time: 132 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th March 2014
Box Office USA: $43.6M
Box Office Worldwide: $63.4M
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios
Production compaines: DreamWorks SKG, Reliance Entertainment, Bandito Brothers, Electronic Arts
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%
Fresh: 34 Rotten: 121
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Scott Waugh
Screenwriter: George Gatins
Starring: Aaron Paul as Tobey Marshall, Dominic Cooper as Dino Brewster, Imogen Poots as Julia, Rami Malek as Finn, Ramón Rodríguez as Joe Peck, Harrison Gilbertson as Little Pete, Dakota Johnson as Anita, Michael Keaton as Monarch, Scott Mescudi as Benny, Sir Maejor as Leigh Dennis, Carmela Zumbado as Jeny B, Nick Chinlund as Officer Lejeune, Libby Blanton as San Fran Girl, Beth Waugh as Investor's Wife, Michael Rose as Investor, Han Soto as News Producer
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