Braking isn’t Bad for Aaron Paul, ‘NFS’ movie

THE REEL with Ben Conniff

Ben Conniff

With star Aaron Paul at the peak of his popularity coming off of “Breaking Bad,” I definitely feel the “need” to catch him in his first big project since the show’s finale. 

 Paul, a hot supporting cast and un-simulated street racing stunts generate just enough “speed” to make “Need for Speed” worthy of a recommendation, even if the story stumbles over a few potholes along the way.

 You might recognize the title because the film is based on the popular series of racing video games from Electronic Arts. 

 I’m unsure how much writers George Gatins (“She’s Out Of My League”) and John Gatins (“Real Steel”) actually borrowed from the individual games. I’ve always been a less-than-casual “NFS” player. I don’t always keep up with each release. 

 But I do know that, if nothing else, all you need are fast cars, curvaceous tracks and dozens of cops in hot pursuit (see what I did there?).

 The film adaptation certainly has plenty of all three, but between each chase there is a love story between Paul’s troubled, blue collar Toby Marshall and Imogen Poots’ (“That Awkward Moment”) privileged Julia Maddon.

 Things really heat up between the two when Julia calls shotgun on a cross-country road trip/car chase with Toby as they head from New York to California for a race that could save his family’s old auto garage. 

 But the stakes don’t end there. Dino Brewster (“Captain America: The First Avenger”‘s Dominic Cooper) is a sleazy, exotic car dealer and key figure from Toby’s past. Revenge drives Toby to San Francisco to take on Dino in the big race.

 The story is a highly clichéd, rags versus riches tale. The blue collar hero wins the affections of the rich girl while battling huge odds against the even more rich and resourceful villain. 

 We’ve seen it almost a hundred times in other sports movies before.

 Clichés aside, it appears that the actors had a blast making this movie. The chemistry between the cast is strong, and I could tell when I was almost moved to tears during an early sequence with Toby, Dino and Pete (“Beneath Hill 60″‘s Harrison Gilbertson). 

 Kid Cudi, Ramon Rodriguez (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”) and Rami Malek (“Short Term 12”) round out Toby’s wisecracking supporting crew. Malek nearly steals the film when he quits his desk job in downtown Detroit to join Toby on the road.

 At the end of day, what really sets “Need for Speed” apart are the spectacular stunts they pulled with the cars. Director Scott Waugh (“Act of Valor”) wanted the crashes to feel as authentic as possible, so he made them as authentic as possible.

 Not a single dent, scratch or busted windshield is faked with CGI. Every wreck was filmed for real. 

Granted, they were orchestrated by professionals in closed environments and should never be attempted by any of us viewers, no matter how badass you feel driving your 2004 Cavalier home after the show. 

 Not that I’m admitting to anything…

 Grade: B-