There’s a lot of energy within Speed, and it’s for this reason that the film ultimately works. Individual parts don’t always click, but as a whole, this is the type of adrenaline-fueled experience that action movie fans deserve more of. It lasts almost 2 hours, but it doesn’t feel like it, which is almost always an indicator of quality. To say that I had a good time with Speed would be accurate, even if I wasn’t completely bowled over by it.
The movie begins at what could be the climax of a different movie, in case you were expecting to get settled in. There’s a hostage situation — they’re trapped in an elevator set to explode — but thanks to some quick thinking from junior SWAT member Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves), they’re rescued, and the bomber (Dennis Hopper), is presumed dead after he disappears off-screen and explodes. Just another day in the life, we figure, although it’s really setting up our villain and our hero. Jack’s partner, Harry (Jeff Daniels), is injured in the rescue and can’t be of much help later on.
Tomorrow comes around, and in the background, a bus explodes. The payphone rings, and Jack is told by the not-dead bomber that another bus is rigged with explosives. When that bus reaches 50 MPH, the bomb will arm itself. If the speedometer declines below that amount, the bomb will go off. Jack’s goal is to find the bus, ensure that it either doesn’t reach 50 MPH or maintains a speed above it if he’s too late. We wouldn’t have a movie if he stops it before reaching the correct speed, so the rest of the film deals with his attempts to keep it going as fast as possible.
How would you go about keeping a bus moving over 50 MPH in Los Angeles? Oh, and you also don’t have a qualified driver, as he’s been shot. Instead, a passenger, Angie (Sandra Bullock) is driving. You also can’t evacuate the passengers, as the trigger man is watching and will blow you all up if you try. You don’t know the traffic situation, and you’ll eventually have to fuel up. Even more untold obstacles will stand in your way over the duration of your journey. What a premise for an action-thriller, is what I say, although I know I’d be blown sky-high within minutes if put into that situation.
I liked Speed‘s simplicity. The characters all have one goal on their minds. The people on the bus want the bus to stop safely, the villain just wants his $3 million, and everyone else just wants a good show. While the screenplay throws hurdles left and right, as well as providing a clever and anticipatory villain, the ways that the characters figure out ways to keep on moving are ingenious. And when the impossible is going to happen, it’s going to happen, whether possible or not.
This is the kind of movie in which you don’t question what could or couldn’t happen. You’re too involved, too thrilled, that you don’t care. Oh, a 50 foot jump is coming up? Sure, that could be made in a bus. Each stunt tops the next, as well, making a strong progression upward until you can barely take it. I can’t actually remember the last action movie I’ve seen that was so unrelenting in terms of the amount of stuff that’s thrown at the characters.
Unfortunately for the film, there are a few elements that are tacked-on either in the brief moments between action scenes or during them that don’t particularly work. The most glaring flaw is Sandra Bullock’s character. Sure, she functions well as a driver, but her constantly annoying dialogue — most of which is made up of random whines and exclamations — as well as her being thrown in as a love interest just don’t work. One or the other might have, but having her stare straight forward, emotionless, while spouting the most inane dialogue that could be concocted doesn’t exactly endear her to us, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why Jack fell for her almost instantly.
Many of the one-liners and quips made fall flat, and if they were trying to lighten the mood, they completely failed. I laughed more just at the obscene amount of challenges that the filmmakers threw at their characters than anything that those characters said. Jack isn’t John McClane, and when he tries to be, it’s embarrassingly bad. I think part of the problem is that Reeves isn’t as charismatic as someone like Bruce Willis, but also because there’s no acknowledgment on his part about how absurd his situation is. He takes it all like it’s all part of the job, instead of being astonished or wowed by it.
I was wowed for a lot of the time, and I anticipate that most audience members will be as well. There’s just something about the pure adrenaline rush that comes from a spectacle like this that I find invigorating. When done as well as Jan de Bont’s Speed is, they’re a ton of fun. Simply put, that’s what Speed is. It’s fun, and it would have been a superb action film had its secondary elements been improved upon or even removed completely. Do we really need a superfluous love interest? Well, yes, if you want a second ending after everything was wrapped up nicely. That’s right, Speed needs to include that, because it doesn’t think it has thrilled you enough in the 90 minutes leading up to it. I’ll take an oversaturation of thrills any day.