Hoppers Hopping Mad at Keanu's Big Bullocks
On face value Jan de Bont's "Speed" starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock is just another dumb movie which relies on action and its stars popularity to carry it. But whilst it does revel in the outrageous and often absurd it does have a slight ingenuity about it especially with the main premise, that of a bus which has to maintain a set speed or else kaboom. It throws up issues, such as how to keep your foot to the floor driving through the streets where it's not just tailbacks that will cause stress but also pedestrians who venture out into the road. All of which is hard to deny being quite clever although not overly original, harking back to other action disaster movies set on moving vehicles. But for the most it works as a main premise delivering tension and action in equal quantities and making "Speed" a fun and memorable movie.
After saving a group of desperate civilians from an elevator rigged with explosives, SWAT team members Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves - Point Break) and Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels - Terms of Endearment) believe they have foiled the crazy bomber who appears to blow himself up. Except he hasn't and seeks revenge by drawing Jack into an explosive game where he must rescue the passengers on a bus which cannot go less than 50 miles an hour or else it will blow up.
Right from the start of "Speed", the introduction to our hero bomb disposal expert Officer Jack Traven as he helps rescue a groups of hapless civilians stuck in a lift is all very well done, delivering bravado to make him into an action hero to cheer on. As is the introduction to the bad guy Howard Payne who for want of a better word gets pissed at Jack for rescuing those people in a lift so draws him into the explosive game on the bus.
Then there is the action, which of course is outrageous going beyond what is realistic but delivering the adrenalin and excitement needed to get you near to the edge of your seat. When Jack slides under the moving bus on a mechanics trolley you know it spells trouble but with his bulging biceps, gritted smile and a lot of danger it works delivering high octane thrills which audiences want. It's not always well thought out and much of it is seriously unbelievable but heck it works and along with the occasional explosion and surprise "Speed" delivers what is a thrill of a theme park ride.
Plus of course there are the stars and that first pairing of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Reeves does well delivering the excitement of the action hero, looking stressed by the seemingly impossible situation whilst risking all to save the passengers. It's a paint it by numbers action hero, delivering nothing different to the norm although it just needed Reeves to say "gnarly" and it would have been a complete surfer dude bomb disposal expert. Yes that accent, that sort of surfer dude persona creeps out and ends up grating as it did ever so slightly in "Point Break" a few years before.
Then there is Sandra Bullock who although gets third billing seems to come to the forefront of the movie as Annie the passenger who ends up having to drive the bus. It's a typical Sandra Bullock performance, that of being quite cutesy whilst delivering a certain amount of dry humour giving "Speed" a much needed humorous element.
But whilst many remember "Speed" for the pairing of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock it is the performance of Dennis Hopper as evil bomber Howard Payne which makes it more than just a dumb ass action movie. Hopper delivers that bad guy perfectly, showing a slightly psychotic side but with not so much a comical facet but an element of over the top ness which stops it from being completely dark.
All of which may sound like I really like "Speed" and for the most it is one of my favourite dumb ass action movies. But it doesn't known when enough is enough as it goes on long after it needs to and delivers a continuation of the story when a near perfect climax had already been delivered. It's why at just short of 2 hours "Speed" starts to be drawn out and tiresome, even grating with it's additional storyline which makes you question why. It also doesn't know when to stop in the search for thrills, an in one outrageous action moment which is more akin to an Evil Knievel stunt it loses all grip on the real world.
What this all boils down to is that for the most "Speed" delivers exactly what you want. It has good characters, good action and also delivers a sense of tension and drama with what is quite a clever set up. But it spoils things because it doesn't know when to stop, not just with an overlong story but with some action moments which become laughable because they are so outrageous. But even so it's still worth watching just for Dennis Hopper's crazy bomber.