‘Need for Speed’ needs a cinematic mechanic

“Need for Speed” has fast cars and, um … well, it has fast cars. This very disappointing sophomore effort from Scott Waugh, director of “Act of Valor,” is an overly long action/crime movie based on the video game franchise by the same name.

James Gerstner works at Fort Hays State University Foundation.

James Gerstner works at Fort Hays State University Foundation.

My biggest problem with “Need for Speed” is not its lifeless characters, nor how ironically slow it approaches its opening act, nor the only marginally exciting racing scenes. My problem is the incredibly cavalier approach it takes to the crime of reckless endangerment.

Collateral damage is a given in any type of modern action movie. Stuff blows up and people get hurt. Somehow, watching superheroes destroy cities while struggling over the fate of the human race doesn’t tweak my moral compass nearly as much as watching punk kids drive the wrong way down a highway putting innocent lives in danger for nothing more than a cheap thrill.

“Need for Speed” takes generic characters on a cross country race against time that is only saved by Michael Keaton’s occasionally captivating performance as an underground Internet personality who organizes the film’s climactic race. Is it a surprise that a former Batman saves the day? No, it is not.

I admit to having some fun in the first part of the second act. The film picks up a little wit and a little big-picture perspective and the other problems started to fade. Unfortunately, the level of fun in “Need for Speed” is not sustainable and its flaws quickly flared up.

This is a hard movie to recommend. It’s not abysmal, but it certainly rubbed me the wrong way. For the car enthusiasts out there, I would recommend last fall’s Formula One racing movie “Rush” – it does cars better and swaps the insolent 20-somethings of “Need for Speed” for far more interesting and far more psychologically complex characters.

3 of 6 stars