You'll Never Ride the Crosstown Bus Again Without Keanu
Directed by Jan de Bont
at a local theater
According to various media sources, "Speed" is the movie of the summer, the best action movie in a long time, a great reason to keep your driving record clean so you don't have to resort to the bus.
Surprise--the hyberbole is more or less borne out. Those in the mood for "White" probably won't appreciate this hard-driving flick. But those feeling like a thrill, a chase or even just a diversion will enjoy "Speed." That includes many who don't usually like action movies. If you haven't gone to see it already, head over to the nearest theater and catch it on your next free night. Besides all else, it's a movie you have to see to stay in touch with the current American culture.
The plot is well-known by now. Staunch LAPD member Jack Travens (keanu Reeves) play a game of wits with crazy man Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper). Their showdown of sorts centers around a bus that Payne his wired with a bomb set to go off if the speed drops below 50.
Passenger Annie (Sandra Bullock) gets roped into driving the thing while Travens tries to find a way to rescue the passengers--who also can't get off the bus lest Payne detonate the bomb. It's not deep or world-shaking, but it's entertaining. Danger, explosives, insanity--your typical action-adventure movie ingredients.
But one of the most amazing thing about this film is what it's a not--regarding star Keanu Reeves, that is. As we all know, Keanu Reeves first became famous as laid-back time-traveler Ted Theodore Logan, Esq. And he's never been able to escape it in any of his following film roles.
"Dangerous Liaisons?" Ted in a doublet. "Point Break?" Ted on a surfboard. "Much Ado About Nothing?' Ted tries blank verse. "Dracula?" Ted and vampires.
But, mirabile visu, "Speed" is not Ted on a bus. Reeves' character Jack Trevens is tough and somehow intense. The movie doesn't try to make him out to be a rocket scientist--his partner Harry (Jeff Daniels) provides the technical smarts, constantly telling Travens the why and wherefore of the bombs they encounter. But Travens is believably street-smart, able to think on his feet.
And he's fairly is control, of himself and of the various situation he's thrown into. It helps that he has Sandra Bullock as Annie to play off of--she's funny and talented. But Reeves manages to hold his own as a credible don't-mess-with-me action hero much more believably than he did in "Point Break." Maybe it's the buzz haircut.
He even hold his own with Dennis Hopper, his usual maniacally brilliant self. Hopper plays Howard Payne, an articulate, intelligent psychopath--such a big departure from all of his other roles. But Hopper is particularly unlikable and unsympathetic here.
Usually with the case of a smart psycho, there' some sympathy or admiration that the character can evoke, turning the battle between good and evil into of opposing wills.
Not so in "Speed." Payne thinks the world owes him a living, for various reasons, and is out to get it. He's in it for the money. It's enough to make even the most bleeding-heart liberal turn against the welfare program to hear this wacko go on. Near the end, the audience just wants Payne dead, dead--preferably blown up with one of his own bombs.
Which brings up one the advantages of "Speed"--minimal gore. Some people die in this movie, unfortunately, but director Jan De Bont avoids the temptation to show every drop of blood. And each death stands out rather than simply becoming part of a body count, getting treated with the appropriate amount of horror and sadness.
Of course, De Bont makes up for the restraint in one area with an excess in another. This is a damm destructive movie. Things crash, blow up and burn at tan amazing rate--planes, (subway) trains, automobiles.
Cynics in the audience will point out that it would have been much, much cheaper to just pay Payne the $3.7 million and get it over with--after all is said and done, the price tag probably averages more per hostage than the original ransom would have been.
But then the sheer thrill of the chase would be lost. And thrilling it is--although that bus does drop below 50 miles per hour at some points. Watch it and see. It's not for lack of Annie's driving abilities, of course--as a speed nut myself, I got very fond of Annie. She's as tough as any California girl not used to danger can believably be when thrust into maximum overdrive crisis.
Translation: she doesn't cry, she keeps her cool, but she's shaken at points. The chemistry between her and Travens is low-key but there--and seems completely natural, the result of two people being thrown into an "intense experience" together.
Jeff Daniels provides some balance as Travens' older, slightly more jaded partner, Harry. He can act like a nut, but ask him a question about a bomb and suddenly he's Mr. Wizard, spouting off details about detonation wires and weird timers. He seems to be in constant analysis mode. And the gear the LAPD folks wear is really cool--black and futuristic, a cross between battle armor and the suits in "Dune." They look like they can handle anything.
"What do you do?" is much too cheesy to replace "Make my day" or even "Ah'll be bakh" as one of the all-time famous one-liners. But that doesn't mean that "Speed" isn't up there with the memorable action movies. Reeves should stick to the action genre rather than trying to be a serious actor. The specter of Ted has been banished in "Speed," but it's always lurking around, waiting to return.