Despite all that, it does show signs of actual life — in the stunts, in the performances, in the headlong rush to get to the next crazy event.
The movie takes its title from a video game (and of course from a "Top Gun" catchphrase). The cluttered plot has hotshot driver-mechanic Tobey (Aaron Paul) avenging a serious crime, for which he served two years in the pen, by challenging his nemesis (Dominic Cooper) in a legendary illegal road race. He picks up a car-savvy Englishwoman (Imogen Poots) for reasons that are too hard to explain, and they must get from New York to the race's San Francisco kick-off in 45 hours.
This takes 130 minutes to play out, but we're never far from a road race, a flipping car, or the sound of squealing rubber. Director Scott Waugh is a veteran of stuntwork, and he knows how to arrange cars in dangerous ways.
This is the most irresponsible thing about the movie. All this hugely dangerous racing is presented as a hilarious good time, and the innocent bystanders and police cars upended along the way are just so much collateral damage in the fun.
Maybe that works in a video game, but a movie has to create some semblance of a real world. So unless you're a sociopath, watching this mayhem is occasionally icky. (Still-fresh memories of "Fast and the Furious" star Paul Walker's death in a high-speed crash might also give pause while watching this rival to that franchise.)
And yet the zoom-zoom is often exciting, and Tobey's posse of mechanics is wacky and loose. Rami Malek plays a grease monkey who has a memorable final day at a real job, and hip-hop guy Scott Mescudi adds some generic but lively chatter.
The most pleasant surprise is up-and-comer Imogen Poots, who is completely charming in a potentially nothing role. She easily outshines future "50 Shades of Grey" star Dakota Johnson, who actually does have a nothing role.
There's also Michael Keaton, the organizer of the big race, who never leaves his radio studio/Internet chamber. Keaton yammers in "Beetlejuice" mode, apparently having already made the millions of dollars he'd need to carry on his car racing sponsorship.
"Breaking Bad" co-star Aaron Paul looks like a bowl of vanilla pudding that's been left at room temperature, but all he really needs is a sub-Batman growl and a little attitude. This, he nails. "Need for Speed" is about as good as a really dumb movie can get.
"Need for Speed" (two and a half stars)
Despite the premise and the irresponsible action (the car racing causes lots of collateral damage, but nobody cares), this is about a fun as a really dumb movie can get. Aaron Paul leads a lively cast through a tale of high-speed racers doing illegal things; Imogen Poots is his charming co-star.
Rating: PG-13, for violence, nudity
Opening: Friday at Alderwood, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive-In and Cascade Mall.
More Entertainment Headlines
Igor gets his due in high-energy return to 'Frankenstein' Wednesday’s highlights on TV Stars at American Music Awards have Paris on their minds Upcoming author events in Snohomish County and nearby 1D wins big at AMAs; Dion pays tribute to Paris victims ‘Bond by Design’ highlights visuals behind 007 films Julia Roberts turns in best performance of her long career in ‘Secret In Their Eyes’ Album review: Kurt Cobain’s awful aftermath is a mess
Our to-do list full of ideas for your weekend
Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.