(USA - 1994)

by Vanes Naldi, Dan McGowan & Mike Lorefice

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels, Joe Morton
Genre: Action
Director: Jan De Bont
Screenplay: Graham Yost
Cinematography: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Composer: Mark Mancina
Runtime: 115 minutes

Vanes: Most action movies try the tired formula of the blockbuster superstar playing the pretty boy hero against a stereotypical bad guy and a generally attractive partner that has to be saved and/or helps the hero overcome the odds.

Mike: Reeves is a pretty boy trying to be tough. Bullock is supposed to be attractive. Hopper is typecast as the villain, but happens to be a great actor that can breathe new life into an old role even when he doesn't have his trusty oxygen mask.

Dan: Hopper does a good job here, but beyond him and a few decent to good action set-pieces everything else is atrocious. Reeves simply can not act. The only time he is good is when he plays a stereotypical disaffected youth, either serious or comedic. Bullock is almost as bad, she has played nothing but the same characters over and over.

Vanes: The stories are usually predictable and not well developed, thus the movie becomes a collection of special effects that don't mean anything if they don't "shock" people. From the beginning, this movie trains us to expect lots of special effects. Like the title suggests, it's not about the story, the characters, it's all about "speed" Adrenaline and tension, that is what moves the movie from the beginning.

Mike: One reason directors like Hitchcock and De Palma can keep you at the edge of your seat is that you can never be too sure. If they hadn't proved anything can happen already, they did so when they killed stars Janet Leigh and Angie Dickinson respectively early on in their movies. Movies like Speed and Ransom create the opposite of tension within me. I never believe for a moment that either Reeves or Bullock will die or the bus will blow up, so I just sit back admiring some of the production and saying "okay." The only main character that could die is Hopper. I believe that he will certainly be thwarted, which adds to the dullness. Whether he lives or dies doesn't have
much effect on the overall picture because it'll happen during the final few minutes of the movie and this isn't the kind of picture that is going to make a statement.

Dan: The problem with Speed is that other action films have successfully had adrenaline and tension as their focus while still delivering quality in other areas. Take Ronin for example. Not only were the car chases brilliant, echoing the golden age of 70's car chases, but the cast was superb and they delivered on all counts. Even the bit roles were played by strong character actors like Sean Bean, who brought the goods to a good script that also created intrigue in addition to action. While a kind of romance developed between De Niro and Natasha McElhone, it never overshadowed more important elements in the plot; it only served to add another dimension to it. It is never the focal point. A lot of films like Speed make the mistake of having a romance as the forefront between action scenes, I guess to satisfy the ladies in attendance. I just end up not caring, and why should I? I'm supposed to care about whether these people will make it out of this perilous situation so they can live happily ever after, meanwhile minor characters are dying left and right and who would settle for merely living ever after...screw the happy part. To me, all the carnage and sacrifices make a budding romance seem silly, superfluous, and even arrogant. This is why action films should focus on action, characters, and plotting. And if the good plot (like in Ronin) somehow calls for a romance to add a dimension than so be it, excellent. But when you are sitting in the theater knowing these romantic scenes are filler or formula you just bide your time for the action scenes. Even more frustrating is the romance taking place _during_ the action and danger. Speed has some solid to good action scenes, if caring nothing for even remote realism at some stages i.e. the bus jump you mention down below.

Vanes: Even if the premise isn't too plausible (I don't think life in the streets of LA is that - relatively - calm). Speed grabs your throat from the beginning and until the end it sustains a good level of entertainment.

Mike: It's not the premise that isn't plausible, it's most of the movie. Hell, at one point the bus collides with a car when it's barely traveling over 50. I'm supposed to believe this wouldn't shave a mere 3 or 4 miles off? The only thing more ridiculous is, well, actually we get it with the bus jump.

Vanes: Certainly with two weak leads like Reeves & Bullock you'd expect bad performances, but they are adequate because anything more would steal the show from the REAL lead, "Speed".

Mike: In a way, I'm glad the film has bad leads because they had nothing to work with anyway. I hate when someone I actually like takes one of these hopeless roles. Reeves & Bullock have a character, but there's no heart and soul to it and no real development. Bullock was almost passable in a few of her earlier roles (but has sense become intolerable almost without exception) because she had a little edge and was fairly spunky. This should not be confused with having any acting ability, but in movies like this and Demolition Man, most people don't care about the acting. These two do a decent job of developing a little romance, which mainly serves to make the movie all the more preposterous. Obviously Reeves has some mystical powers over women, but what good is a date with him if you don't live to realize it?

Vanes: Reeves plays the pretty boy who's afraid of becoming emotionally involved in his work in an effective way. He looks and acts cool like he's supposed to. Bullock is not as good, but mostly goes on charisma and screen presence. Hopper is just exquisite as the psycho villain, without the usual clichés of action movies "baddies."

Dan: Reeves is just corny to me. He tries to act cool and tough, but the most famous lines from the movie, the "What do you do!" speech, just come off so lame. Maybe that dialogue sounded nifty on paper, but when Reeves delivers the lines you are begging for laughter on those uber-serious lines. Not that we should blame the screenwriter for casting Reeves :)

Mike: Hopper is the only character we actually learn anything about. It's good in the sense that he's the only actor here, and his performance is the only thing beyond the look that anyone could rave about. It's bad in the sense that the only character I find myself caring about is a psychotic who is willing to kill several innocent people.

Vanes: The soundtrack is effective (the main theme is very good too) and generally the movie is well executed, including special effects well incorporated in the story and not "stunt shows" picked at random to please the viewers. A very entertaining movie that doesn't pretend to follow a story with character development or focus on dialogue, but this is what makes Speed better than other action flicks.

Mike: The look of the film is generally highly impressive. Director Jan de Bont was an accomplished cinematographer who worked with renowned visual director Paul Verhoeven, also from the Netherlands, on several occasions. He also filmed Cujo, The Jewel Of The Nile, Die Hard, & The Hunt For Red October among others. The films he directed after this: Twister, Speed 2, & The Haunting have grown progressively worse to the point that even Lili Taylor can't make his film watchable, but here he brings freshness rather than an over reliance on CGI. Most people will be entertained by this movie, but be forewarned that the be all and end all is its action.

Dan: In my view, Speed's action just wasn't good enough if that's all it was supposed to and ultimately had to offer. The romance between Bullock and Reeves added nothing. Hopper was solid as the villain, but just didn't capture my attention like he normally does. This is probably due to the fact that he has been quirky and sick in much better films and he looked out of place in this actioner alongside Reeves and Bullock. In fact, both Hopper and Reeves were in a much better film where their strengths were played to, the classic River's Edge. Hopper played Feck, who was actually maybe creepier and more twisted than his character in Blue Velvet and Reeves character called for teenage alienation and frightening ambivalence. I understand they are two very different genres, but both perform much better in these roles in this underappreciated gem, while Speed mystifyingly gets plaudits from action fans. There are great unrelenting wall to wall action movies out there (Hard Boiled), but Speed isn't one of them though it tries to be. Speed was very forgettable.

Mike: River's Edge is definitely better, but what's so annoying about the praise this film unjustly gets is just 9 years earlier there was a much better Hollywood film called Runaway Train that was along the same lines and had a young man (Eric Roberts, the actor in his family) and young woman (Rebecca De Mornay) that could actually act.




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