Film: "Speed"

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper and Sandra Bullock

Theaters: Movies 8, Promenade and Cinema 8 (Broken Arrow,

Sand Springs)

Rating: R (profanity, violence)

Quality: THREE STARS (on a scale of zero to four stars)

The breakneck adventure "Speed" is a mile-a-minute thrill

ride that more than lives up to the promise of its title.

Hyperactive, relentless and thoroughly implausible, this

nifty little formula adventure is sure to be characterized

by some as "Die Hard on a Bus."

But it's more than a mere knockoff. It's a clever, carefully

constructed action machine that generates lots of high-octane

thrills and spills. What it lacks in originality, it more

than makes up for in full-throttle pacing.

"Speed" marks the directing debut of Dutch-born Jan De

Bont, who appropriately enough served as cinematographer

on tension-fests such as "Lethal Weapon 3," "The Hunt

for Red October" and - surprise! - "Die Hard."

Granted this story owes a lot to "Die Hard" and to films

like "Runaway Train" and "The Taking of Pelham One Two

Three." But while De Bont and rookie screenwriter Graham

Yost hew closely to the conventions of the genre, they do

so without lapsing into mimicry or cliche.

One thing that gives their effort such freshness is some

very smart casting.

Keanu Reeves, that most eclectic of actors whose resume

includes everything from the goofy "Bill and Ted's Excellent

Adventure" to the sublime "Much Ado About Nothing," takes

the lead as Jack Traven, a Los Angeles S.W.A.T. cop who's

on the trail of a clever mad bomber.

Who better to play that devious explosive wizard than Dennis

Hopper, the quirky actor whose name belongs in the dictionary

under the term psycho?

Early on, Jack thwarts the bomber's attempt to blow up a

high-rise elevator full of passengers. But the short-fused

nut won't be discouraged in his quest for the deadly big

bang. Next, he rigs a complicated bomb aboard a city bus.

It's armed when the bus goes over 50 mph, and will explode

when the bus's speed drops below 50 mph.

Commandeering a sports car, Jack chases down the speeding

bus, leaps aboard and the stage is set.

The rest of the story unspools as Jack and panicky passengers

careen along sprawling, car-choked L.A. freeways in an effort

to avoid a deadly collision and disarm the bomb.

An assortment of oddball characters on the bus helps keep

things interesting. The foremost passenger is a feisty,

wise-cracking young woman (an appealing Sandra Bullock)

who takes the wheel after the uniformed driver is injured.

Meanwhile, Jack's practical, plodding partner (Jeff Daniels)

works at tracking down the bomber and flushing him out of

his TV-monitor-filled hideout.

Du Bont directs all this in a breathless style that leaves

no time for reflection. That's good, because the logic behind

this tale is so feeble that it would explode under even

moderate scrutiny.

But "Speed" isn't about logic, it's about action. And

it delivers that in spades. But at times it seems the director

doesn't know when to apply the brakes, and some of the stunningly

choreographed stunts seem to drag on too long.

Still, De Bont knows that action without compelling characters

is an empty exercise. And in Reeves he has a likable hero.

This isn't Reeves' first outing as a tough cop. He did a

solid job as a surfer-dude cop in the silly but enjoyable

"Point Break," and here comes across convincingly as an

ordinary guy in a very out-of-the-ordinary profession.

Hopper is always compelling, whether he's doing weirdo commercials

for athletic footwear or whether he's creating one of his

twisted movie villains. Here, he presents the crazed bomber

as a quivering mass of vanities and vulnerabilities. It's

classic Hopper.

"Speed" is refreshingly honest and straight-forward. It

doesn't pretend to morals or messages about modern society.

It is, simply, what it is: a kinetic thrill ride that delivers

a jolt of adrenaline and leaves you wobbly-legged when you

leave the theater.