I grew up playing Need for Speed. I have fond memories of hours upon hours spent daily after school or on the weekend playing the original Need for Speed PC game with friends, lowering the volume of the in-game music and playing our own CD’s to go along with the races. It was an experience that I think the series captures while – it’s not a simulator, and it’s not QUITE a full on arcade game experience either. Though they have attempted to have games fully in both categories, those haven’t been as fruitful as the ones that are kind of in-between, and games like Most Wanted, and Hot Pursuit have been amongst the most played games on any system/console I’ve owned.

On the flip side, I’ve never seen a single episode of Breaking Bad. Always wanted to (well, not really at first, but once I found out the show was supposedly amazing, I’ve been meaning to check it out). So my experience with lead actor Aaron Paul is minimal – I’ve seen a couple of the films he’s been in, but couldn’t tell you who he was in those films.

Need for Speed is due out tomorrow in cinemas (with some advance showings tonight), but your pals at IoM got to see it earlier this week. Is it competition for the revitalized Fast and Furious franchise? Or are we looking at another stinker? Full review after the jump!

In Need for Speed, Aaron Paul plays Tobey, a man wrongly accused of the death of his friend, who hatches a revenge scheme that has him driving cross country in a souped-up Mustang with a hot blonde (Imogen Poots). Along the way, his pals (played by Rami Malek, Scott Mescudi, and Ramon Rodriguez) help him overcome a bounty on his head, and escaping the police, while he heads towards the DeLeon a race organized by the mysterious Monarch (Michael Keaton), where the winner takes all the cars (most of which are worth $1M each).

154620If it all sounds ludicrous (why doesn’t he just…I dunno…investigate the missing evidence instead of trying to get revenge, and why does he drive like a madman across country when he should be trying to stay off the police’s radar), it really kind of is, but in the best possible way. Less than five minutes into Need for Speed, I had the feeling I was watching a late 90’s Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Director Scott Waugh (he also did that Act of Valor movie) has a style akin to a mix of 90’s Michael Bay, with a bit of Dominic Sena thrown in just so we’re not cutting shots every five seconds. The car chases are competently and smartly filmed, with dashboard cams and (thankfully) mostly practical effects and crashes that make the races feel real. The first race of the film in particular is filmed with minimal interruption and conversation, and it’s a welcome change.

While the Fast and Furious series has moved beyond the racing territory for the most part, Need for Speed, just starting off, stays there and keeps its focus there. It’s the type of film where revenge is beating someone in a race, not a big shootout. The police have a presence in this movie (as well they should, given their prevalence in the games), and it leads to some callouts to features of the games that’ll have fans smiling. Really, the film smartly pays homage to almost all of the NFS games without being obvious about it. Scenery and details are there if you’re paying attention, but nothing is thrown in your face.

Which is the film’s strongest aspect. It has fun, but it does take itself seriously. Well, as seriously as you’d expect from a 90’s Bruckheimer film. It reads guilty pleasure all the way, even down to lead Aaron Paul’s acting. It’s like he modeled his stuff after creepy 90’s Nicolas Cage, because man…for the first half hour of this film, I thought he was going to take someone in a van and do bad things to them. He does ease off the “creeper” vibe for the remaining hour and forty minutes, thankfully.

And if you were counting, yes…this film is 2hr10min long and, sadly, it probably could use a trim. There’s a subplot about bounty hunters that, while it led to some cool car stunts, ultimately felt pointless. If they’d trimmed about 20 minutes out of the film, I think they would have hit that sweet spot. As it is, there’s about one car race too many, which is odd to say since I saw a film called Need for Speed, but when a film drags because it’s too overfilled, that’s an issue too.

I happened to see Need for Speed in 3D, even though I didn’t realize it was in 3D. I’d imagine it was a post-conversion, but it was extremely well done, and I recommend checking it out in that format. You could do worse than to spend an afternoon watching this flick and, if you grew up with Bruckheimer like I did, you’ll find yourself engrossed like you’re back in the 90’s again.