Speed. Also known as ‘Die Hard on a bus’, which in reality sells it short. While it may not be as good as Die Hard (although that is basically impossible) it has a palpable kinetic energy over its predecessor and confidently builds on the action framework it established six years prior.
Speed (1994) is directed by Jan de Bont and stars Keanu Reeves as superstar cop Jack Traven as he races (literally) to stop a mysterious bomber (Dennis Hopper) from destroying a bus full of people and getting away with $3 million dollars. The catch? The bomb on the bus will explode if the bus goes below 50 miles an hour. Its a simple idea, but an immediate hook that draws even the most ambivalent audience member in. And this film milks it for all its worth, sending scenario after scenario at full throttle at the audience. I know this is such an easy pun to make but Speed’s pace is fast. After the frustratingly overlong first act is over, the viewer is sent on a cinematic roller-coaster – full of close calls, high tension and plenty of speed. There are certainly elements of its plot that stretch believability a bit too far, but its so enjoyable that for the most part you accept the heightened reality this film exists in and simply enjoy the ride.
Jan de Bont does an impressive job considering Speed is his directorial debut. However, its less impressive once you realise he’s been the cinematographer on over 50 films before he finally took the helm. One being Die Hard. Coincidence? Either way, his experience shown full force in Speed. The action is always clear and coherent, there’s a number of long takes and flexible uses of the camera. Several action sequences and explosions are given their moment to shine thanks to de Bont’s direction. His direction does take a while to kick in (thanks to that aforementioned first act) but when it does you notice.
Keanu Reeves is a good enough action star to not hamper the film. He fits the bill of the post-Die Hard action hero and has an easy charisma which makes him very watchable. Yes, there is definitely a dopey or poorly delivered line here in typical Reeves fashion but for the most part he performs as expected. He also has very comfortable chemistry with the romantic lead of the film played by Sandra Bullock. Bullock does an excellent job of portraying a scared yet capable office worker and is actually helpful, a nice change for the romantic interest. Dennis Hopper is also enjoyably hammy as the villain. His character is nothing new but he plays him with a level of energy and theatrics that he’s always entertaining when on screen.
Speed is a rollercoaster in many ways. Its fast, exciting, tense and leaves you with a rush of endorphins at the end. Certainly it has its peaks and troughs but by the end its an experience you’re very happy you had.
General Audience: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Recommended