Stars: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper and Sandra Bullock
Theaters: Movies 8, Promenade and Cinema 8 (Broken Arrow,
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
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
"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.