Speed (1994)

22 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Speed” has exactly what every action movie should have—a strong, likable hero, a threatening villain, and of course, gripping action sequences that deliver some fantastic special effects. This is the Ideal Summer Blockbuster that doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. It’s a compelling rollercoaster of a movie that doesn’t slow down once it speeds up, if you’ll forgive the pun. Now, of course, there are more than a dozen other action films that feature a lot of action, but not a lot of them are interesting in their characters or even their stunts or effects in their action sequences. “Speed” manages to fix the problem(s).

First, I should say that “Speed” has an extremely clever premise. Imagine if you will: a bomb set under a city bus is armed when the bus speeds up to fifty miles per hour. If the bus drives under fifty, the whole darn thing explodes. What can you do about this situation in Los Angeles traffic? At rush hour? And with a fifty-foot gap in the unfinished freeway?

The bomber is a mysterious psychotic who has everything planned out in his every plot. He’s played by Dennis Hopper, and while it seems like a cliché to cast him as a villain, Hopper is naturally threatening and delivers a great performance.

The bomber wants revenge on reckless LAPD police officer Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) after he and his partner (Jeff Daniels) foiled one of his plots in an opening scene. They mistook him for dead—they’re wrong. So now there’s a bomb on a bus and Jack is the one who has to get on board and save the hostages…without slowing down or stopping the bus. Of course, Jack makes it onboard the bus and after a passenger shoots the driver of the bus, a female passenger named Annie (Sandra Bullock) is forced to drive.

I love this exchange:

JACK: Ma’am, can you handle this bus?

ANNIE: Oh sure, it’s like driving a really big Pinto.

And so the bus goes through wrong lanes, construction sites, airport runways, and of course, that unfinished freeway. Through all of this madness, Jack thinks fast and comes up with ways of getting out of every sticky situation that comes around. Of course a lot of it is preposterous (I mean, a bus that size can’t really jump a fifty-foot gap in the street). But what’s important is that a lot of it is a ton of fun. There isn’t a dull moment to be found here. “Speed” is kept alive by the charisma of the actors and the intensity of those extraordinary action sequences.

I suppose I should also mention that “Speed” is sort of like a three-act play. In between the bus story are bookends (an opening scene involves an elevator and a closing scene involves a subway train). Why is this necessary? Because we know that we want more in a film like this.

Keanu Reeves shows a great deal of charisma and plays a credible action hero while also displaying recklessness and bravery. He’s a likable guy for us to root for. And who wouldn’t root for him when, after all that’s happened, he puts himself under the bus, trying to dismantle the bomb? Sandra Bullock shows a lot of spunk as the woman who has to save all the other passengers, as well as become Jack’s possible love interest—she and Reeves have good chemistry together. And then you have Dennis Hopper, whose character issues ultimatums and is very sinister. He’s one of the creepiest and most charismatic villains you’ll find in an action film.

“Speed” is a blockbuster through and through and it looks like Reeves, Hopper, and Bullock had a good time making it and I bet director Jan de Bont had a blast making it. He and the rest of the crew spent a lot of money on this film—they’ll get it back. “Speed” is a wonderful action film—one of the best action films I’ve ever seen.

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