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This image released by DreamWorks II shows Aaron Paul in a scene from “Need for Speed.” (AP Photo/DreamWorks II, Melinda Sue Gordon)
Movie review: Racing drama ‘Need for Speed’ needs to lighten up
Review » Aaron Paul is too serious in his first starring vehicle.
First Published Mar 13 2014 03:47 pm • Last Updated Mar 13 2014 04:59 pm

The cars in "Need for Speed" can rush past nearly anything — except the clichés that dominate the script for this video-game-inspired action drama.

At the center of our story is a long-brewing rivalry between two hot-shot race drivers from the same small town. Poor-but-honest Tobey Marshall ("Breaking Bad’s" Aaron Paul) stayed true to his roots, trying to maintain his late father’s auto shop. Spoiled brat Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) got out of town, turned pro and luxuriates in the spoils — including an engagement to Tobey’s ex, Anita (Dakota Johnson).

At a glance

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‘Need for Speed’

Rival racers battle for supremacy in an illegal street race, in an action movie that takes itself too seriously to be much fun.

Where » Theaters everywhere.

When » Opens Friday,March 14.

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

Running time » 130 minutes.

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Dino recommends Tobey for a job to rebuild a souped-up Ford Mustang — reputedly the last one the legendary car king Carroll Shelby worked on before his death. The job brings Tobey in contact with Julia (Imogen Poots), who represents the owner and knows as much about cars as Tobey.

But the rivalry heats up, and Dino challenges Tobey to a street race that also includes Anita’s kid brother Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), who fancies himself as good a racer as Tobey or Dino. If you don’t realize that Pete should have "dead meat" tattooed on his forehead, you haven’t seen very many movies.

Sure enough, Pete is killed in the race — and Dino frames Tobey to take the blame. Tobey does two years in prison for vehicular manslaughter, and then tries to rebuild his life.

To do so, he tries to angle his way into a high-stakes illegal road race run by the mysterious Monarch (Michael Keaton, whose past racing experience was as the villain Chick Hicks in Pixar’s "Cars"). He needs a car, so he asks to borrow that Mustang — and Julia comes along for the cross-country ride. When Dino puts out a bounty to keep him away from the race, Tobey and Julia have to dodge all manner of motorized bad guys (including an encounter with some big trucks near Moab).

Director Scott Waugh ("Act of Valor") devises some full-throttle racing scenes, which — as a former stuntman and stunt coordinator — he makes as realistic as possible. The dialogue in rookie writer George Gatins’ script and the outlandish situations out of which the characters must drive are less plausible.

All this could have been dumb fun if it weren’t treated so seriously. This is a particular problem for Paul, who treats this shut-off-your-brain action movie like a Sundance Film Festival-worthy drama. Paul has not yet developed that gift for dropping Bruce Willis-esque one-liners. He’s a powerful actor, but "Need for Speed" is not a movie that requires powerful acting.

movies@sltrib.com

Twitter: @moviecricket


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