By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels, Joe Morton, and Alan Ruck
Mass transit would seem to be the ideal choice as a place to set an action movie. And, in 1994, six years removed from Die Hard, a film finally came out that took full advantage of the setting. Hell, just about everything else that had an explosion and took place in one setting was being deemed ‘Die Hard on a….’ However, Speed took the conventions of bus travel and built an (almost) entire film around it. And, I must say, previews for this movie did nothing for me. You had one actor who was believed to be certifiably nuts (Hopper). You had one actress who was in Demolition Man but little else (Bullock). And, you had an actor who, at least at this time, was deemed by many to be more wooden than a Duraflame log (Reeves). And, to top it off, the film was being directed by Jan DeBont (after Tarantino supposedly turned it down). A guy who has held the camera as a director of photography on many films (Die Hard, Basic Instinct), but had virtually no experience as a director. Was there any possible way it could work? Visiting it again after all these years (I hadn’t seen it since it was out) I would have to say yes. I enjoyed the chemistry between the two leads. I enjoyed the witty dialogue. And, I enjoyed the dazzling action set pieces. Speed is, by all accounts, something that is missing in this age of taking movies so serious. Speed is a fun film.
The film opens up with an ominous credit sequence that takes place inside an elevator shaft. And, at least for the first 15 minutes or so, Speed, in all honesty, didn’t work for me. DeBont loved to flood the screen with a totally out of place slow motion car jump scene, and an elevator sequence that really tended to drag. All the characters in this scene were just obnoxious, and I was actually snapping my fingers at the fact that Jack Travern (Reeves) and Harry Temple (Daniels) got there in time to save them. It’s not until the action falters outside of the elevator, and Travern is face to face with the bomber (Hopper) when the story really picks up steam. And, the fact that Travern throttles the bomber’s plan angers him enough to want to take out the bus that becomes the main set piece of the movie. Again, this is not neuroscience. But, it’s a great way to open an action film and set us up for what’s to come.
And, what is to come, exactly? In order to know that, one must get to know the character of Travern, and the guy with the last name of Reeves who plays him (this after Stephen Baldwin turned it down, further proof that guy is really not playing with a full deck). Critics have been rather harsh on Reeves over the years. And, I must say, that for the most part I feel it’s warranted. But, this was after he played Ted from Bill & Ted, a character who was not only dumb, but also always looked like he was high every minute he was onscreen. Years of trying to play someone who was different from this character, such as his character in the surfing/cop actionier Point Break, only made him seem like a tough cop…who was high every minute he was onscreen. But, it must be said, that apart from his extremely laughable performance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Reeves has chosen good roles with depth that almost add to this characteristic (Neo in The Matrix, Bob Arctor in A Scanner Darkly). In Speed, this notion works just the same. There were only one or two instances (especially when he is trying to calm down a guy who has pulled a gun on the bus) when his bad acting is apparent. However, his character of Travern doesn’t exactly have dimensions to it, and Reeves was fine in the role. This is also widely known to be the movie that exposed Sandra Bullock to the public (yes, Demolition Man had come before it but that film was not nearly as widely seen). It is very obvious from watching this movie, why she became as big of a star as she has. She has a few pretty good lines (one, involving gum on a seat, was improvised) and her all out sweetness really rules her part of Annie. When she takes over the bus, she is delicate. Yet, there were fantastic instances in which her strong will came out, and it’s fun to watch the development of this star within the course of Speed.
As far as dialogue in the film, it is pretty good as well. And, you can tell (especially now that he is such a big name) where the ghost writing of one Joss Whedon came to play (Graham Yost is the credited writer of the film). One character in particular, a smarmy yet funny yuppie played by Ruck, is the prototypical Whedon character (his hilarious uttering of ‘oh darn’ was a part I had completely forgotten about). Whedon’s words are all over the place here, and he proved even back then that he had a great eye and ear when it came to writing natural reactions. However, that is not to say Speed is not without its problems. I have already mentioned the monotonous beginning scenes that dragged. And, while the sub plot of Harry’s tracking of who Hopper’s character REALLY was is necessary, it kind of dragged the film down. However, Reeves and Bullock have tremendous chemistry, and Speed is armed to the tilt with enough special effects & action sequences to hold its own against any film. Overall, I would definitely recommend Speed. It won’t win any originality awards, but it does make for a fun couple hours. So, grab your popcorn, hotshot. You’re about to get pop quizzed!
3.5 out of 5