25 March 2014


It's probably just a coincidence that we've had two films that star Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots in the last fortnight, but it's a good enough reason to make this catch-up business slightly easier for myself. If nothing else, each film provides an opportunity for the two actors to nail their abiding skill-sets- Paul is a Pinkman-esque eternal screw-up with a heart of gold, and Poots is a wacky, adorable, but never annoying sprite.

Are the two films so similar? Well, Need For Speed is game publisher EA's first foray into film, and A Long Way Down is based on Nick Hornby's darkly comic novel about an anti-suicide pact, but both feature these two brilliant actors, and "Poots & Paul" sounds enough like a TV detective show  that I would watch, that it's irresistible to pair the two films with no other grounds for comparison whatsoever. Onwards!

Need For Speed might have got a bit of a personality boost if it had simply been called "Yeah: Cars, Bitch!" Alas, Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a custom car builder by day and a prodigious street-racer by night. When he's falsely implicated in the manslaughter of his best friend and protégé by a rival racer, he ends up doing a two-year stretch in prison. Upon his release, he immediately breaks parole and hauls arse across America to take part in a prestigious underground race, take revenge upon his rival, and clear his name.

Basically, EA's attempt to break into cinema goes about as well as Hasbro's did, when they released their Transformers-style version of Battleship. Need For Speed aspires to the popularity of the Fast & Furious series, but proves to be neither fast nor furious. It doesn't even seem to feel the same requirement to be pacy as the title would suggest- the film runs to 130 minutes. Having established that Tobey needs to get across America really quickly, it still feels a little slow, and suffers from whole masses of nonsensical contradictions, especially when it comes to our hero's ethics about other drivers.

For instance, Tobey goes from being incensed about his best mate becoming collateral damage, to wiping out civilian's vehicles during a police chase. It's a cardboard cutout character, given considerable heft by the commitment that Paul brings to the table. Whatever the film's myriad faults, he's even pretty good in a film such as this, where it's really difficult to be any good. Poots replicates his feat, doing far, far better with what could have been a stock "she's just a girl, but hot because she knows about boy-stuff like cars" role- her love interest character is an eccentric and welcome inclusion.

If we're still a while off a truly good film based on a video game, then Need For Speed can at least take pride in placing amongst the "not awful" adaptations. There's a big dopey grin struggling to get out, but in contrast to the recent Fast & Furious renaissance that it's aping, its fixed frowning makes the idiotic plotting less enjoyable than it could be. It's Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots who really elevate the super-generic script, as much as they are capable of elevating it, and their chemistry carries us through what is basically a long build-up to an underwhelming drag race.

Need For Speed is still playing in 2D and 3D, in cinemas nationwide.

Quirky, sexy detective duo Poots & Paul (seriously, copyright, Mad Prophet Industries 2014) meet again, along with Pierce Brosnan and Toni Collette, in A Long Way Down. The four characters meet atop a tower block on New Year's Eve, and the crazy random happenstance of their meeting ends with each of them agreeing to stave off killing themselves, at least until Valentine's Day (apparently the next popular date for self-harm). They're an unlikely group of friends, but they lend perspective to each other's problems, and each of them begin to reconsider their lives.

On the surface of it, this looks like a very breezy treatment of dark subject matter, but with Hornby's original novel as a guide, director Pascal Chaumeil and screenwriter Jack Thorne strike a very good balance between pathos and froth. It's unfair to say that it simplifies suicidal feelings by omission, when the focus for the meet-cute premise is intentionally optimistic, but never trivial. But the film's biggest mistake is arguably in trying so hard to redeem the characters we do follow, that it never satisfactorily acknowledges their initial foibles.

Brosnan's TV chatshow host has just been to prison for statutory rape and endured a very public fall from grace; Collette's single mother is prepared to end it all rather than look after her severely disabled son on her own any longer; Paul's pizza man lies to his compatriots in not-dying about having cancer; and Poots' ennui always seems like a hipster-ish affectation. Although one character out of this foursome is eventually explored in a little more depth, they all find redemption without really being taken to task about the position in which they started, because that might have been a bit too much like hard work.

A Long Way Down was bound to earn derisive notices, and it's evidently tougher to reconcile a feel-good tone with themes of suicide on the screen, than it was on the page. But it's not so ghastly, or disastrously misjudged, as other reviews have suggested- the leads are largely charming, and they do get close to building some chemistry, even if the gallows humour has largely been translated through gritted teeth. They've done a decent job of constructing an unlikely support group, but the lack of depth in each individual member lets down both the comedic and serious sides.

A Long Way Down is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Need For Speed and/or A Long Way Down, why not share your comments below? Here's to six seasons of Poots and Paul, and maybe a couple more movies...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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