The premise of Speed has made it into the public consciousness by osmosis even if the finer details of the film haven’t. It opens with a bomb plot on an elevator which is foiled by a cop called Jack (Keanu Reeves). The perpetrator, an explosives expert called Howard (Dennis Hopper), wants to take revenge on Jack so rigs a bus with a bomb which will explode if it goes under 50mph. He should’ve just posted a shit through his door like a normal person.
The film deals with its stupid premise in a very formulaic way. The bulk of the film is an extended car chase, albeit one without a chaser, as the bus trundles along well under the speed limit. I suppose the speed of 50mph was chosen so it wasn’t too implausible that the bus could navigate sharp corners or not run out of fuel instantly, but it’s also not that fast. The DVD description reads “If you don’t think Speed is the fastest-moving adventure film ever made, we challenge you to find a faster one.” How about Snakes on a Plane? Or any film with an actual car chase in it?
Although it’s easy to take the Mickey out of a film called Speed where they rarely exceed 60mph, the section of the film on the bus is certainly the best, with some genuinely tense moments. Where it falls down is in the sections either side which feel like copy and pasted action move filler.
Obviously it’s not helped by Keanu Reeves, who’s better than he is in The Matrix but still sounds like he doesn’t know how to intonate English properly. At one point he shouts “I’m gonna rip your fucking spine out” but sounds more like a fishmonger angry at a haddock than a hard-ass cop. Also weak is Dennis Hopper as the villain. As he talks down the phone about Jack ruining his life’s work he sounds like a disappointed old man, doddery rather than threatening. He’s less criminal mastermind more Magnus Magnusson.
Apart from some enjoyable stuff in the middle, it never rises above the inevitable foolishness, with lousy characters and extreme predictability. If you want a gripping-but-simple car chase movie, just watch Duel. And if you want to watch a thing that explodes if it goes below a certain speed watch the Father Ted parody Speed 3, where the bus is replaced by a milk float. It’s very funny and has all the most important bits of this film although will make it hard to take Speed seriously.
As regular readers know, I like to find a way a film relates to the real world so I leave you with this news story from February. Basically a French guy’s brakes stopped working so every time he tried to stop the car accelerated. He ended up travelling for an hour at about 125mph into Belgium until his fuel ran out, with police clearing the roads as he went. This guy’s story, at more than double the speed of Speed, sounds like a much more exciting film.