The pleasures of driving like an absolute maniac

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

“Need for Speed” is an ode to the automobile and not the green, hybrid kind either. The vehicles in this movie are sleek, sexy, gas-guzzling, carbon-spewing planet-destroyers, and director Scott Waugh revels in shooting them from every conceivable angle (plus a few you never even thought possible). In an interview with The Japan Times, Waugh begins by saying that “whatever happens in the world, cars will always be around. People love them too much. And this is a movie that banks on that love.”

OK, but what about the environment and a growing discussion in the U.S. about how Hollywood should promote greener, more sustainable values?

“It’s not like I’m always making movies about cars,” says Waugh with a laugh. (His last work was the CIA thriller “Act of Valor.”) Still, Waugh was one of Hollywood’s most famous and reliable stuntmen, officially working on films as a professional daredevil from the mid-1980s until he retired in 2005. To say that he’s good with cars is like saying Einstein was good with physics.

“I’ve been around cars my entire life and I have an understanding about them that maybe other directors don’t. I can put the camera in the most unlikely places and get an angle on the driver and vehicle that viewers don’t normally get to see,” says Waugh.

The additional bonus point is that “Need for Speed” was made with virtually zero CGI, due to Waugh’s policy that a digital processor should not come between a man and his car.

“It’s a really very physical movie; nothing was easy, and everyone really had to move. It was a workout,” says the director.

“Need for Speed” is based on a best-selling video game, which means, among other things, that Waugh and his team had to come up with an original story line.

“We had no story to work with, which means we had no constraints. The hard part was wrapping the story around the game. We worked closely with the manufacturer and kept chiseling the plot down to get what we wanted. The good thing was, unlike the game, the movie is so real. We literally brought a video game to life and got to see what happens when a story is matched to a game,” says Waugh.

That’s not as dire as it sounds. “Need for Speed” is by no means a brain teaser, but so what? It proffers two things — a tremendous rush and extreme testosterone gratification, and, at the end of the day, perhaps it’s unfair to ask more from a car movie. It also showcases the luminous ambience of Dakota Johnson, soon to appear in the much touted and much more (sexually) complex “Fifty Shades of Grey.” In “Need for Speed,” Johnson aptly plays Anita, a metaphorical trophy for two guys intent on out-driving each other and claiming her as their own.

Boys will be boys, right? Fast cars! Gorgeous women! Winning the race! We get it that these things are all-important. Still, the soaring levels of sheer, undiluted guy-ness in “Need for Speed” threatens to suffocate the senses and left me panting for oxygen before I realized this may only be the beginning. “Need for Speed” could spawn a couple of sequels or maybe even compete with “The Fast and the Furious” films; a franchise which now has six — yeah, count ‘em, six — installments parked in Hollywood’s garage.

According to the U.N. report on climate change, Earth simply can’t sustain much more of this driving and crashing and driving ad nauseum. But as Waugh says: “Transportation is an important facility for humans, period. Without cars, we’d be a different civilization.”

Starring “Breaking Bad” actor Aaron Paul, “Need for Speed” is a tale of racing, love, money and revenge. And I mentioned the driving, right? Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a car workshop owner and street racer who’s passionate about cars. He loves racing around on freeways and streets with his buddies Joe (Ramon Rodriguez), Finn (Rami Malek) and Pete (Scott Mescudi), upsetting fruit carts and nearly running over a homeless person and such.

So far, so frat-boyish, until Tobey’s archrival Dino (Dominic Cooper) comes sashaying into the workshop and asks Tobey to complete the finishing touches on a Mustang that another car mechanic was working on before he died. Dino later challeges Tobey to a race. The result: The Mustang crashes, Pete is killed and Tobey gets three years in prison.

When he gets released, Tobey prepares to take vengeance — not by bashing Dino’s head in, but getting into a car and driving to a race. He settles all scores, forges all alliances, starts all love relationships — in short, conducts his entire life — inside a car. When Tobey meets would-be girlfriend Julia (Imogen Poots), their first conversation is also about cars.

Waugh says he wanted the look of 1970s car movies that feature such dudes as Warren Oates and Peter Fonda, or “real, high-class car movies like ‘The French Connection,’ ” adding that such films shaped his childhood and teenage years. “I like to take the audience for a ride and have them participate, instead of having them sit there and eat popcorn,” he says. “We really worked to bring the audience an experience they just can’t get unless they’re actually sitting in a speeding vehicle. The rush is real. The excitement is real. It doesn’t get any better than that.” The best part, of course, is there’s no gridlock, ever.

“Need for Speed” opens June 7. For a chance to win one of three “Need for Speed” keychains, visit jtimes.jp/film.