Speed Review

Posted: July 11, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Barrage of the Blockbusters, moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: June 10th, 1994

Running Time: 1 hour and 55 minutes

Written by: Graham Yost

Directed by: Jan De Bont

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

In his 1994 review of the film, Roger Ebert placed Speed, directed by Jan De Bont, under the category of “Bruised Forearm Movies,” i.e. movies where “you’re always grabbing the arm of the person sitting next to you.” Well, I’d like to take this opportunity to coin a similar term for describing action movies which offer endless thrills, and it’s a term which derives from my personal home viewing experience: “Chair Rocking Movies.” You see, whenever I watch a movie at home, 99% of the time, I’m sitting in a comfortably-cushioned recliner/rocking chair seated slightly to the side of a widescreen television. And for some of the really exciting movies, the ones that get me fully involved in their happenings, I start to absentmindedly rock back and forth in the chair out of excitement; Speed is such a film, despite the fact that by this point, I’ve seen it a good many times.

Speaking of terminology, “non-stop thrill ride” gets thrown around a lot these days, especially in those thirty-second TV spots promoting the newest action movie of the week, to the point where such a term has become trivial. But if ever there was a movie that phrase was made for, it’s Speed, a movie comparable to the sensation of a rollercoaster ride, driven by thrills and excitement more than anything else. The craft on display is so good, the fact that the film puts more emphasis on action than characters or story is in this case unimportant, because through the action, the story develops and the characters are still given opportunities to be compelling.

Keanu Reeves stars as Jack Traven, an LAPD SWAT officer who’s part of a team called in at the film’s beginning to handle a hostage situation involving a suspended elevator in a high-rise building and the mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) demanding $3 million, or he’ll send the people trapped in said elevator plummeting to their demise. Jack and his partner Harry (Jeff Daniels) are the ones placed in charge of securing the freedom of the hostages before the bomber can kill them. They do just that, and the bomber seemingly takes his own life in the aftermath. And that’s only the first twenty-three minutes of the movie. Not long after that, Jack receives a surprise call: the bomber is still alive, and he reveals that he’s placed a bomb on a public transit bus. Once the bus goes over 50 mph, the bomb is armed. If the bus drops below 50 mph, it explodes. Jack frantically tracks down the bus and gets on it in action hero fashion. But almost immediately after that, the driver is shot by an unruly passenger, leaving Annie (Sandra Bullock), an LA native who’s had her driver’s license revoked for speeding, to keep the bus going amidst many other complications soon to befall Jack and the passengers.

Speed is a most-apt title for this film, because once the plot kicks into high gear, it rarely, if ever, takes a moment to catch its breath — or to let us catch ours. It’s a pure example of an entertainment value movie done absolutely right, sporting sensational action scenes a plenty while throwing in bursts of good humor and character interactions to make sure things don’t get stale. It’s also a reminder of just how good 80’s/90’s-era action films could be, and now twenty years after it was first released, Speed still manages to outdo a pretty vast majority of the action films these days which aim to scoot by on entertainment value alone and yet don’t.

Because even when it appears easy to pull off a movie such as this, there are still certain “tricks of the trade” that have to be well-incorporated, and screenwriter Graham Yost clearly understands this. He finds clever, natural ways to complicate matters so that there’s always a mini-crisis of some kind for the characters to deal with, as opposed to having them just stand around on the bus, beside the bus or in front of television screens with worried looks on their faces. For instance, Jack doesn’t just stand by Annie and coax her and the other passengers through the situation. No, he’s constantly trying to find ways of disarming the bomb or determining how to deal with, say, gaps in the highway. Yost also ensures that while the situation and structure of the film may limit the opportunities for proper character development somewhat, the characters still have enough personality to them so that we do end up caring about whether they make it out safe or not.

Keanu Reeves plays Jack mostly as the straight-arrow of the movie, but still indulges in the kind of sly humor that sometimes unexpectedly comes out of these situations. As an action hero, Reeves proves here that he’s got what it takes if given the right material. Sandra Bullock effectively complements him, bringing her own sharp comedic timing (which was sorely missing from The Heat) and reminding us that Gravity wasn’t the first time she’s been able to hold her own in a harrowing life-and-death circumstance. The two of them also have good chemistry together. Jeff Daniels provides a bit of welcome levity while Joe Morton is convincing as the Captain who’s on the road, doing everything he can to help Jack every step of the way. But the true highlight of this cast is Dennis Hopper as the villain. This is the kind of scenery-chewing 90’s villain acting that’s just a joy to watch, and Hopper himself is clearly enjoying every second of it as much as we are. He can often be threatening and darkly funny in the same scene, and Hopper makes sure to stay a constant presence throughout.

Before this film, director Jan De Bont worked as a cinematographer, with one of those films being Die Hard, and with Speed he shows he knows what he’s doing. He brings such an immediacy and energy to the film, as if he’s taking the title to heart, which proves beneficial. The action scenes certainly owe a lot to De Bont’s direction.

There’s really not much more to say, except if you’re one of the handful of people who hasn’t seen Speed yet because you’ve been living under a rock, what the hell are you waiting for?


NEXT WEEK: The ever-troubling question of, red or blue?

  1. le0pard13 says:

    One of the great summer movies. Such an entertaining film.

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