More damage is done, more lives are lost in the attempt to keep that bus running at 50 than could possibly be worth the 12 or so on board, but the strength of this movie is that questions like that, which lie at every turn, never enter your head.
"Speed" is not a movie. It's a runaway roller coaster about to jump the track. It's an adrenaline-pumping, heart-stopping, hands-over-the-eyes suspense movie that works because it abandons any pretense of plausibility and allows the audience to be happily terrified passengers.
One question drives this movie: can they make it? Director Jan De Bont nails us to our seats with fear of what may be about to happen. Without giving us a minute to pop a handful of Gummi Bears, De Bont runs the opening credits against an elevator plunging through a stainless steel skyscraper. This story unfolds not in outer space or an alien jungle, but in surroundings that are soothingly familiar. It's everybody's office building with a difference: there's a madman in the basement.
Bent on revenge, Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) squares off against Jack (Keanu Reeves) and Harry (Jeff Daniels), two buddies who lead the L.A.P.D. SWAT team to the skyscraper. The buddies are smarter and braver than anyone you've ever dreamed of and the madman is impossibly clever. Caught in the middle is a handful of innocent people whose lives or manner of death depend on the wits of our heroes.
A number of them end up on a bus that has been wired by Howard to explode if its speed drops below 50 mph. When the bus driver is shot by an impatient passenger, the wheel is taken by Annie (Sandra Bullock), who happens to be on the bus because her driver's license has been revoked for speeding. If you think keeping the bus at 50 won't fill two hours, think again.
It's hard to imagine anyone being bored by the feats these vehicles are asked to perform--except, possibly, a canoeist or a bird watcher. Elevators, flatbeds, cranes, subways and, of course, the bus operate in alternating states of jeopardy and deliverance. It's a vehicle lover's paradise.
More damage is done, more lives are lost in the attempt to keep that bus running at 50 than could possibly be worth the 12 or so on board, but the strength of this movie is that questions like that, which lie at every turn, never enter your head. One command catches the spirit: "Don't even attempt to grow a brain!" And that's the fun if it. No one does.
Keanu Reeves is a very good hero with stainless steel nerves, and Sandra Bullock is a terrific blend of fear and cool. It's refreshing to see a cocky, scared, smart woman plunked behind that wheel rather then the dumb blonde who would have been chosen a few years back. Only Dennis Hopper disappoints, and it's really not his fault. He has played this role so many times he seems to have run out of innovative facial ticks and eye madness.
Every single action is exhilaratingly, magnificently ridiculous, but if you don't like explosions, catastrophes or terror, you might want to play miniature golf or read a good book instead.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 496
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Rating: R, 1h55m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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