‘Need for Speed’ lacks intelligence, overflows with great racing action

It’s a pretty hard and fast rule that movies based on video games are absolute trash.

The first “Resident Evil” movie had some OK moments, but other than that, most video game adaptations are incompetent at best and horrible dumpster fires at worst.

The good news for anyone hoping for that trend to be broken is, unlike other game adaptations, “Need for Speed” isn’t a horrible movie. That it is at all competent makes it far and away the best of its kind. However, the end result is nothing more than some terrific racing scenes punctuated by a barely-functional story.

Aaron Paul (of “Breaking Bad” fame) plays Toby, an auto mechanic by day who pays the bills with cash won in illegal underground street races on the side. Some really contrived plot action happens, eventually leading to his wrongful imprisonment for the vehicular death of one of his buddies while the real killer walks free.

Then, for some reason, he has to drive all the way across America in 48 hours with a love interest (Imogen Poots) so he can enter a high-stakes race in California being hosted by a mysterious rich dude played by Michael Keaton.

The whole thing tries to be some “Bonnie & Clyde” saga about lawlessness, love and revenge, but who cares about any of that? Everyone just wants to see racing, and that’s where “Need for Speed” delivers.

 An impressive amount of the film takes place in cars. Toby is racing when he gets set up, then he’s racing across America and finally he’s racing so he can clear his name, or something to that effect.

The promotional selling point of the film was that none of the vehicular action relies on computer-generated effects, and it definitely shows. The stunt work, cinematography and editing are all legitimately wonderful. There is a decent amount of creativity to the various races, as well.

 The best part of the film is when Tobey’s Ford Mustang is ambushed by some trucks in a canyon, which leads to a chase to the top of a mountain, where an Apache helicopter piloted by Kid Cudi (no, really) carries Tobey and his car to safety.

It’s all so ludicrous that it sort of works. There are a million “Need for Speed” games, but none of them have real stories, so the writers hastily cobbled together elements from a handful of games and connected it all with some unintentionally funny dialogue.

 The only performance worth noting is Michael Keaton as the aforementioned mysterious, rich guy. All his scenes take place in one room, as he hosts an Internet radio show that consists entirely of him shouting complete nonsense into a microphone while wearing stupid sunglasses.

Basically, “Need for Speed” is “Fast & Furious” without any memorable characters or stories to tell. Anyone with a love of death-defying racing action will probably find something to like, as will anyone who ironically enjoys dumb things. It doesn’t really serve anyone else.