Speed (1994) / Action-Thriller

MPAA rated R for violence and language
Running time: 116 min.

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels, Joe Morton, Alan Ruck, Richard Lineback, Carlos Carrasco, Beth Grant, Glenn Plummer, Hawthorne Jones
Director: Jan de Bont
Screenplay: Graham Yost
Review published April 7, 2013

Speed 1994 Keanu Reeves Sandra BullockThe simple, one-sentence plot: Keanu Reeves (Point Break, A Walk in the Clouds) plays LAPD SWAT officer Jack Traven, who is desperately trying to thwart a madman's plans to explode a city bus with a bomb on it that's set to explode when the speed of it dips down below 50 mph unless he gets the millions of dollars he feels is coming to him. 

Action cinematographer Jan de Bont (Twister, The Haunting) skillfully directs for the first time, making what by all measurements is a terrible screenplay by Graham Yost (Mission to Mars, The Last Castle -- reportedly, an uncredited Joss Whedon punched up the script) into one of the better pure action movies of its era, even if it is one of the dumbest. 

Borrowing its styles from the action blockbusters that ruled the box-office roost for the previous 5 years before its release, De Bont is at least successful in making it work from an action standpoint, despite terrible characterizations, a plot that doesn't pass the snicker test, and plot developments that persistently (and increasingly) break suspension of disbelief without the semblance of regard for its audience's intelligence.  It's so mindless and overblown, in fact, that it manages to reel you in through the sheer audacity and unwavering conviction.

Speed lives up to its title by putting the pedal to the metal in terms of delivering action and intrigue, even if it plays it all out at comic book levels.  The implausibility of it is evident throughout, but De Bont rarely gives his audience a chance to linger too long in the last instance of idiocy, throwing everything at us to keep us rapt with attention on how it's all going to pan out.  Excellent action sequences do help immensely, whether it is a car chase, a roll under the bus, or an especially ridiculous 50-foot jump.

Keanu plays macho convincingly, Hopper is his usual off his rocker, and it's the spunky good-girl role that catapulted Sandra Bullock (Demolition Man, Love Potion No. 9) to sweetheart-role superstardom.  I guess that's all you need to know from an acting standpoint, as their characters are all fairly cheesy and one-dimensional.

It's a film so utterly silly that you'll not only find yourself laughing about it the next day, you'll probably hate yourself for being rapt up in it while it is running.  It's a crock, but does deliver enough action goods to satisfy those with a craving for an empty-headed popcorn-movie fare.  As Hopper's character says in the film, "Do not attempt to grow a brain." I think that line could work as well as any other for this movie's tagline.

-- Followed by Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)

 Qwipster's rating:

©2013 Vince Leo