AutoMatters: ‘Need for Speed’ & ‘Muppets Most Wanted’

By Jan Wagner

This week AutoMatters goes to the movies with reviews of “Need for Speed” and Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted.” They both feature cool cars.

I’ve been eagerly looking forward to seeing “Need for Speed” for weeks, no doubt due in part to the early and heavy promotion of it. Add in the popularity of the video game franchise to which the movie owes its very existence, and this had all the makings of being a terrific car movie.

I’d heard that they went to great lengths to make the many high-speed, mega-action car sequences realistic, and in that respect “Need for Speed” really lives up to the hype. The chases – at least when the cars remain on the ground, do look believable. They are exciting.

When the vehicles frequently get airborne, however – well, that is just too much. There’s no way that a car can soar a great distance through the air, come crashing down really hard and yet still somehow manage to keep on going. That is too over the top, as are the obligatory chase scenes where police cars in pursuit spectacularly crash into each other, letting the good guy get away. He has help, but I won’t spoil that surprise for you. Impossible aerial maneuvers notwithstanding, the action is pretty good. So was seeing the new 2015 Mustang on-screen.

Unfortunately, that is about as good as “Need for Speed” gets. I found the acting to be shallow and superficial. The characters are little more than caricatures of heroes and villains, which left me not caring much for any of them – or for the eventual resolution of the plot.

To make things even worse, I saw the film in 3-D. Now don’t get me wrong, I tend to like 3-D, but since I need glasses to see distances I have to wear the 3-D glasses over my regular glasses. These 3-D glasses were quite heavy and, over the course of the film, my nose started to hurt. That was distracting. I would much rather have seen this movie without the 3-D.

So, on the AutoMatters scale of up to five pylons (pointy orange traffic/autocross cones), I barely give “Need for Speed” a three. That’s disappointing.

Now let’s move on to a film that’s sure to put a smile on your face. In “Muppets Most Wanted” the whole crazy gang returns to their roots with much of what made the original Muppet Show so popular on TV – except now we can watch on a bright, sharp, big screen – which is better. I’m pretty sure that I watched every episode when they first aired. Back then the show was set in a cozy theater and truly famous celebrity guests regularly dropped by to briefly visit in cameos each week. The stars were the who’s who of the entertainment industry. In this new movie that happens too, except that the theaters are all over Europe. My favorite celebrity cameo appearance was by the incomparable Celine Dion. She stays around long enough to sing a song. Speaking of songs, the song and dance numbers are quite entertaining with catchy new tunes and lots of Muppets.

I said there is a cool car in this movie and there really is. Imagine a tall, Inspector Clouseau-like character (Ty Burrell as Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon) shoe-horned into a tiny circus clown car (green, of course), the word “Interpol” on the doors and him driving all around Europe chasing bad guys – with CIA agent Sam the Eagle (the especially patriotic Muppet) riding shotgun. The scene where they try to outdo each other with the size of their police badges is priceless. Agent Napoleon’s miniature car is so narrow that Ty cannot even fit his left elbow inside when he drives. It truly looks like a child’s toy as it cruises the streets of Europe and is dwarfed by size of the other cars. It is hilarious.

Speaking of hilarious, Tina Fey plays a love-struck Russian prison guard (the prison musical revue is priceless). Ricky Gervais is Dominic Badguy (pronounced “Bad – Gee” – it’s French you know!) – the evil number two to an even more evil Kermit lookalike, who has a heavy accent and an identifying mole. His name is Constantine. Miss Piggy gets quite involved in that deal.

I give this film a solid four pylons. Check out the previews and more at and, as always, please write to

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Copyright © 2014 by Jan Wagner – #324