An elevator stranded by a greedy bomber’s bomb
Attracts the LA SWAT team that must keep the riders calm.
Jack Traven and his partner Harry follow Traven’s gut
And rescue all the passengers before they meet the nut.
They think the wacko killed himself, but he has other plans.
He still wants ransom money in his trigger-pushing hands.
He poses Jack a challenge in a bomb-conveying bus,
Which cannot dare to slow down once it reaches 50+.
Jack rushes to the bus, which went too fast and now is armed,
And anxious Annie has to drive lest everyone be harmed.
Through traffic jams, unfinished roads, and skittish passengers,
They reach the airport and outsmart this worst of saboteurs.
They set a trap for Howard Payne, the ex-cop with a grudge,
But he holds Annie wired, daring Jack to give a nudge.
The subway takes the villain out, but Jack is forced to choose
To stay with Annie through a crash (until she takes a cruise).

Speed could have been a low point for action movies, a one-trick pony predicated on a single unlikely gimmick: a bus can’t drop below 50 mph or it explodes. Instead, it became one of the staples of the genre, one that milked its hair-raising scenario for all it was worth and joined the likes of Die Hard and the Terminator films as one of the great actioners. Though some of the set pieces lean on the outlandish side, there’s also a gripping reality to the circumstances, and it never lapses into the deadened routine of some films, as if no one is in any true danger. From the opening nightmare of an elevator collapse to the many close calls aboard Bus 2525, Speed is still a white-knuckle thrill ride that never gets old.

One of the film’s best points is the strong casting of the main three: Keanu Reeves as fearless bomb squad hero Jack, Sandra Bullock as vulnerable Wildcat Annie, and Dennis Hopper as disgruntled nutcase Howard Payne. The characters of Jack and Annie could have been flat and banal (like the leads in Speed 2), but Reeves and Bullock inject the right amount of perceptive humor and improvisational heroism to carry the film alone. Add in Hopper, an excellent “crazy” actor, as a seemingly omniscient antagonist, and the entire bombastic package is thrilling from beginning to end. Most of the passengers aren’t big names (the elderly Oriental man, now 100 years old, was actually an animator for some of Walt Disney’s early films), but I can’t resist saying, “Look, there’s Cameron” at Alan Ruck’s presence.

Between the stunts and the riveting Mark Mancina score, Speed is still just as entertaining as it was twenty years ago, minus the frequent profanity and the villain’s gruesome end. (As a minor point, the final line ends the film on a flat note for me, since I don’t think sex alone is any more reliable a foundation for a relationship than an intense situation. No wonder it didn’t last long.) The film spawned a much-maligned sequel aboard a ship that wasn’t that bad but couldn’t match the intensity of the original, especially minus Reeves. Most action films lately try to go over-the-top with the violent energy, but few even come close to the joy ride of Speed.

Best line: (Jack, to Annie) “Miss, can you handle this bus?” (Annie) “Oh, sure. It’s just like driving a really big Pinto.”

Rank: 55 out of 60

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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