Visit sleepy Mount Kisco, N.Y., and you'll be forgiven for thinking you've gone back in time. That's largely because it's here that vintage car tuner extraordinaire Tobey Marshall and his posse of gifted wrench spinners devote most of their waking resources to resurrecting the hot rods of yesteryear—rides from a time when engines were still measured in cubic inches and motivated by barking four-barrel carburetors. After hours, it's off to the drive-in where hot rod classics like Bullitt play on the big screen, and then to a clandestine street race to see which car—and which driver—has what it takes to win.
Wrenching and racing … it seems like a pretty good life to Tobey and his tool mates. But there's a screwdriver hitting the cooling fan.
Tobey's garage is on the verge of foreclosure, a secret only he knows. And so Tobey does more than just half-listen when the much-loathed Dino Brewster shows up with a lucrative offer up his sleeve. Dino is another local who nabbed Tobey's ex-girlfriend Anita, and became an IndyCar champ before setting up his own high-end tuning operation in California. No one's happy to see Dino drive up. But he thinks Tobey's is the best outfit in the country to finish work on a very special project: hot rodder extraordinaire Carroll Shelby's uncompleted final Mustang with Ford.
Dino thinks they can get $2 million for the 900-horsepower monster when it's done. And he promises to give a quarter to Tobey's garage. It's an offer the cash-strapped and struggling mechanic-cum-racer can't afford to refuse.
Dino actually manages to fetch $2.7 million for the fabled car—with payment made by a rich business magnate and negotiated by his beautiful assistant, Julia Maddon. And that's when screwdriver No. 2 starts to twist.
Dino invites Tobey and the youngest member of his crew, Petey, to go for a spin in three Swedish Koenigsegg Agera supercars. And he ups the ante: Beat him on the road, and he'll give Tobey the full $2.7 million. Lose, and Tobey surrenders his quarter. Tobey, of course, isn't about to say no to a race. And Dino, of course, isn't about to lose. Even if he has to take out Petey in a fiery accident to win—a murderous act he then pins on Tobey.
Two years later, Tobey gets out of prison, determined to prove that Dino killed Petey. The only way to get justice, he believes, is to enter a top-secret (and illegal) road race that Dino's participating in. It's dubbed DeLeon, and it's sponsored annually by a former racer known only as Monarch.
But it's invite only. And to get an invite, you have to get Monarch's attention. To get Monarch's attention, you've got to have a fast car with some YouTube exploits to prove it. Even then, Tobey's got only 48 hours to drive from New York to California, where he thinks this year's race is being held.
Easy peasy. Because, after all, Tobey already knows exactly what car he needs: the Mustang. And it turns out the new owner is game to loan it to him … on one condition: Julia has to ride along.
Justice is the endgame here, and if you completely overlook all the illegal racing that's going on to get to that goal, you can hand out compliments to Julia and the three guys from the garage for lending a hand. Anita, too, finally realizes what a louse her boyfriend is and gives Tobey critical information to help him prove Dino's guilt.
[Spoiler Warning] It's also great to see moments of self-sacrifice, like when Tobey decides to rescue Dino from the wreckage of another explosive crash when he could have just let his nemesis burn. And the fact that Tobey gets arrested again after the DeLeon at least offers the suggestion that he's being punished for his illegal activities.
Petey's funeral service features a pastor reading verses from Isaiah 41, including the lines "Fear not, be not dismayed, for I am your God," "Those who war against you will be as nothing," and "Fear not, I will help you." One car gets dubbed a "chariot of the gods." Twice we hear "Godspeed."
Young women at a street race wear short shorts paired with tiny tops that bare cleavage and midriff. Tobey's crew uses a camera to zoom in on the jiggling forms of three female joggers. While quitting his office job, Finn (one of Tobey's guys) strips to just socks, leaving his clothing strewn behind him as startled onlookers stare. (The camera repeatedly shows his bare rear.) In the elevator, an older woman looks down at Finn's crotch, prompting him to quip, "It's cold in here." When Finn's asked why he did it, he says it was to make sure he could never go back to the job again. We see a couple kiss, and it's implied that they're want to go quite a bit further than that.
Need for Speed is chockfull of high-speed and very dangerous racing, with crashes galore and many, many innocent and uninvolved drivers being forced to take evasive action. When Tobey goes the wrong way on a freeway (sometimes the racers get up to speeds of 270 mph), the results are predictably destructive. Dino purposefully bumps Petey's car, sending it flipping into the air. Many rolls later and on fire, it flies off a bridge, then explodes. Tobey clips a homeless man's grocery cart, destroying it (and prompting jokes about it).
One cataclysmic street skirmish, this time with police in Detroit, gets filmed and uploaded to YouTube. The reward for all the recklessness? Monarch sees the clip and welcomes Tobey to participate in the DeLeon.
Thugs try to force Tobey and Julia off the road, using shotgun blasts to "persuade" them. Several of those attackers, not surprisingly, end up dying in explosive crashes. A crash in California flips the car Tobey and Julia are in, bloodying both of them and landing Julia in the hospital with a broken arm and concussion. Tobey ties a chain to a policeman's car, ripping off the rear axle of the vehicle when he tries to pursue.
The DeLeon race obliterates five of the six cars participating in it, along with numerous pursuing police cars. Several of the crashes involving the police are quite serious, and we hear radio calls for aid for the injured officers.
After dragging Dino from the burning wreckage of his flipped Lamborghini, Tobey makes sure he's OK … then punches him in the face.
Crude or Profane Language
One muffled f-word. A dozen-plus uses of the s-word. Two misuses of Jesus' name and half-a-dozen of God's. Six or seven uses each of "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑" and "b‑‑ch." "B‑‑tards" is tossed in once, as is "douche bag." We hear four or five crude slang terms for the male anatomy ("balls," "nut sack") and see one obscene hand gesture made by a woman mocking a man's "size."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Empty beer bottles sit in Tobey's shop. We see folks drinking wine and champagne.
Other Negative Elements
A particularly perilous stunt involves refueling the Mustang while zipping down the freeway. Julia hangs out the window of the car while one of Tobey's friends in a truck feeds a hose to her. Afterward, the guy stands atop the truck (it's still moving) and raises his hands in victory.
Note that most of the time, cops are made to look like annoying buffoons here. And at one point, Monarch tells his online audience, "Racers should race. Cops should eat donuts."
One guy instructs another not to "soil your panties."
Need for Speed is not a movie about the subtle nuances of character transformation. It's a souped-up, turbocharged melodrama with the struggling Good Guy facing off against the nefarious 'n' dastardly Bad Guy, with a damsel who eventually manages to end up in distress plopped down into the passenger seat. There's not much more than that going on here, really. And in an almost cartoonish (read: video game-ish) way, the movie asks us not to think too deeply (or at all) about Tobey's breakneck, utterly illegal cross-country sprint to make sure Dino gets what's coming to him.
If you've owned a video game console recently, there's a good chance you've played one of the 20-plus Need for Speed titles that Electronic Arts has published since the franchise's inception back in 1994. Since then, EA has sold a combined 150 million units, making the series the most popular racing franchise of all time. No doubt DreamWorks and Disney are counting on that built-in marketing advantage when it comes to this big-screen adaptation.
Tobey takes the games' devil-may-care approach to careening through traffic at obscene speeds, with never so much as an afterthought being proffered for those trying desperately to get out of his (and other racers') way. And the fact that several of the cars he drives (most notably that rocket-like Mustang) sport heads-up displays projecting aforementioned obscene speeds on the windshield only helps to reinforce the story's video game credentials.
Yes, Tobey gets locked up again in the end. Yes, the movie's producers have dutifully tacked a big ol' "DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME, KIDS!" disclaimer onto the closing credits, a tardy and ultimately timid attempt to remind impressionable or unstable moviegoers that what they've just seen really is a fantasy, not something they should go out and imitate.
Still, it's not hard to see how this movie, just like its go-fast soul mates in the Fast & Furious franchise, could nevertheless inspire teens (and teens at heart) who have fast rides to see just how far they push down that pedal, too. (And who cares about those goody-good cops, the movie snipes.)
If they get in trouble or hurt innocent bystanders along the way, they'll quickly learn that life isn't a video game—even if some movies are.