Archive Review: Speed (1994)


Any good film, book, essay or song has a grabber that catches your attention and hooks you through the rest of that work. “Speed” is a two-hour grabber. It is the consummate thrill-a- minute movie, the kind where all sins of bad acting and preposterous events are forgiven because the action and suspense are like a wild concoction of sugar and crack. This action movie will bring out the adrenaline junkie in just about anybody.

Far from perfect or even basically intelligent, “Speed” is about exciting as movies get. After an “eccentric” old man (Dennis Hopper) rigs a crowded elevator with explosives to collect a ransom, two LAPD cops, Jack and Harry (Reeves and Daniels), stop him, but he gets away. Days later, he rigs a public bus with a bomb. Once the bus travels 50 mph the bomb will arm. If it drops below that mark, it will explode. To make things more thrilling, he drags Jack into the crisis.

Writer Graham Yost toys with us like a cat with a ball of yarn. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong. Yost hurls all kinds of unforeseeable problems at Jack and the rest of the characters. He must’ve sat down and made a list entitled “things that can go wrong when you’re on a bus that can’t slow down.” It sounds sort of elementary, but it’s actually clever. He strings them together effortlessly as if they were dominoes as opposed to separate plot points. Either way, it’s better than the alternative of “how many times they can narrowly escape the inescapable,” but there’s some of that too.

Unfortunately, if there were a Razzie for Worst Performance by an Ensemble, “Speed” would be up for the award. It doesn’t say much for Keanu Reeves when his best quality as an actor is being stoic. If he cried at a real family member’s funeral I’d probably think he was faking it. It works for “Speed” however because he’s the on guy not freaking out and in control — well, except for one notable three-year-old temper tantrum. Co-star Sandra Bullock in one of her earlier roles is annoying, setting a precedent for much of her career. Even Dennis Hopper takes a bit to become a convincing nutjob. Then again, it’s all easily overlooked in a film as breakneck as “Speed.”

Eternally engaging, suspenseful and cleverly constructed, “Speed” is a bar-setting action film. No other movie will be able to go near the stay-moving singular vehicle hostage action movie without bringing “Speed” to mind. It’s a category of its own, a heck of an action cocktail that will leave you punch drunk to the point where just about any line of dialog is a keeper.

3.5/5 Stars

Speed (1994)
Directed by Jan de Bont
Written by Graham Yost
Starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels


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