Speed Still A Good Action Yarn
By Kristin Battestella
So I’m up sick at 3 a.m. and what’s on the tele but Speed. No matter how many times you’ve seen this 1994 ‘Die Hard on a bus’ vehicle; Speed is still an entertaining, fast paced ride.
After thwarting Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper)’s bombing of an elevator, Detective Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) becomes the point of Payne’s fixation. He blows up one bus and contacts Jack with a new set of rules: there’s a bomb on Santa Monica Bus 2525. If it goes below 50 miles per hour, the bomb goes off. Jack quickly boards the bus and pulls the passengers together-among them tourist Stephens (Alan Ruck) and license revokee Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock). Meanwhile, Jack’s bomb squad partner Harry (Jeff Daniels) and boss Mac (Joe Morton) work to find Payne before his 11 a.m. 3.7 million dollar deadline.
Though we’ve moved on with impressive action and dramatic effects, the simple mentality of the bomb on a bus action in Speed is still refreshing. Regular road high jinks are action enough: hard right turns at sixty miles per hour, pedestrians, obstacles of all shapes and sizes, and that intense jumping the gap in the freeway. Even running low on gas makes an appearance. All the clichés are here, and though they may seem a tad dated now due to imitations and repeat viewings; Speed’s crutches and challenges are still intense. Some of it is over the top yes. The final subway confrontation between Jack and Payne seems tacked on after the departure of our beloved Bus 2525, and director Jan de Bont (Twister, Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life) even uses the same speeding trick twice. Nevertheless, Speed is not the type of film we look to for storyline innovation. While watching again, I found myself smiling at some of the good old-fashioned fun and heroics. Fifteen years later and Speed is still a great ride.
Of course, Speed made box office gold on future Matrix star and Bill and Ted alum Keanu Reeves. Before this yarn, Reeves was little more than a surfer teeny bopper with ‘gems’ like Point Break and a woefully amiss performance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And if you look critically enough at his delivery, you can see he doesn’t really stretch his roots in Speed. Reeves does, however, look buff and do some dangerous looking, dynamite action. He smiles, has some good quotes, and gets the girl. In an action picture, what else is there? Truly, its Reeves and leading lady Sandra Bullock (Miss Congeniality, Crash) together that keep Speed charming. It’s a little forced at times, but Bullock milked every minute of this All American cutie charm. Along with Demolition Man, Speed put Bullock on
I love veteran talent Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider, Hoosiers, Blue Velvet, E-Ring… shall I go on?) but his Howard Payne madman is so bad it’s good. The creepy hand, the mind games, the rules, the quips-we believe Payne has the smarts over Jack because Dennis Hopper is, well Dennis Hopper. It doesn’t matter how cute the girls find Keanu, he can’t hold a candle to Dennis Hopper. But this is an action thriller, remember, so who’s going to win? Jack, of course. In Speed’s cat and mouse games, it’s the getting there that matters. We have to see this ride to the end.
We tease the stars because we love them, but Speed also boasts a fine and diverse supporting cast. Comedy gem Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia, The Squid and The Whale, Dumb and Dumber) is a delight as sardonic but expert bomb defuser Detective Harry Temple. Though not the ideal cop mold and certainly not meant to be a hottie ala Keanu, Daniels nevertheless looks like a cranky cop nursing a bullet wound. There should be more of him and Joe Morton (
Likewise, we’ve got some colorful characters stuck on board our said bus. Some are obvious and annoying, and its fun trying to spot who is sitting where and when. Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) is especially funny as a yuppie tourist unaccustomed to the
mood. The script from Graham Yost (Boomtown) is complex in plot, but some of the double play dialogue is cookie cutter and clunky. Some of that might be delivery as well, but some of the cheesy phrases work. For quite some time during Speed’s height, quotes like “Pop quiz” and “What do you do?” mocked in one’s best Keanu Reeves imitation were the norm. L.A.
There is some innuendo and f bomb language, but Speed is a somewhat tame R and generally safe for teens. While it’s certainly understandable if folks are sick and tired of Speed, ‘whoa’ Keanu, and cutie Sandra Bullock; this big action flick has survived the test of time. Action aficionados and fans of the cast can enjoy Speed again and again. There is an inevitable and forgettable sequel, Speed 2: Cruise Control, but viewers should stick with the original lightning. The DVD and blu ray releases are quite affordable, and on demand options are available as well. If you’re film viewing party needs a movie to cheer or lovingly jeer, consider Speed with your bag of popcorn.