Saturday 25 July 2020

Movie Review: Speed (1994)

A supercharged thrill ride, Speed rides a far-fetched plot at manic velocity. 

In Los Angeles, SWAT team members and best buddies Jack Traven and Harry Temple (Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels) foil the elevator hostages-and-bombing extortion plot of madman Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper). Believed to be dead, Howard remerges and quickly hatches his next atrocity, rigging a transit bus to explode if it slows below 50 mph and demanding a $3.6 million ransom.

Jack makes it onto the bus while it's in motion, and when the driver is accidentally shot passenger Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock) jumps behind the wheel. Harry tries to uncover the bomber's identity and location while Jack has to keep Annie driving above the threshold speed while figuring out a way to rescue the passengers and avoid an explosion.

A ridiculously simple "Die Hard on wheels" premise delivers exactly what it promises: a thrill every five minutes, acts of selfless heroism, a hissing villain, stunts galore, and a romance blossoming behind the steering wheel. Of course none of it makes the least bit of sense and the laws of physics are kicked off the bus early, but the sense of wild fun is infectious.

Jan de Bont steps up from cinematography duties and easily slips into the director's chair, infusing the film with vivid colours and bursting energy. Whenever faced with a choice between restraint and wild abandon, the quick answer in Graham Yost's script is more is better. This does lead to a protracted second climax on a subway rail car, unfortunately abandoning the bus focus in a case of not knowing when enough is enough.

A speeding bus crashing into everything from a stroller (no babies were hurt in the making of this movie) to an airplane and jumping over freeway gaps is no place for in-depth character exposition, and so Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper and Sandra Bullock default to shorthand definitions. Reeves gives Jack Traven an earnest boy scout gloss, Bullock's Annie starts and ends at gum-chewing feistiness, and Hopper's bomb expert is mad at a world he believes shortchanged his career. All three are good enough to complement the non-stop mayhem.

Speed is a jolt of undemanding visceral entertainment, as unpretentious in its intentions as the humble transit bus.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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