Saturday, March 8, 2014

Speed -- Mini-review: adrenaline rush of thoughtless thrills

Director: Jan de Bont, 1994 (R)

A plunging elevator, a speeding bus, a driverless subway train, the action in this thriller occurs above ground, street-level and underground. The opening elevator scene introduces us to two Los Angeles SWAT cops Jack (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix) and Harry (Jeff Daniels, Looper). While the rest of the cops run around trying to prevent the bomber from blowing the final lines on the elevator (he wants $3M), Jack and Harry figure out what to do. They are heroes and deserve the medals they receive.

This only sets up the main act, the speeding bus. Payne (Dennis Hopper, Elegy), the bitter bomber, is on a mission for his "deserved money" and rigs a bomb on the bus. When the speed hits 50mph the bomb is armed. If it then drops below 50, the bomb will explode. Jack somehow gets himself on the bus and in a strange turn of events, a passenger Annie (Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side) finds herself driving the bus.

A bus careening around LA, city of gridlock, having to keep up a speed of 50mph provides excellent thrills. And the script ratchets the action and the challenges higher and higher. Unfortunately, the thespianism does not keep pace. Though this was the movie that made stars of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, the acting is shoddy. Reeves has but one or two expressions. Luckily for him, most of the movie only calls for these. Bullock is a little better, but does not have much to work with. Payne is a by-the-numbers villain, whose character is made from cardboard and so does not require much from the actor.

Despite these complaints, Speed is indeed a fast-paced thriller that delivers on non-stop action sequences as well as unintended laughs. Sadly, there is little of depth, perhaps its speed disallowing that. It carries us for two hours of thoughtless thrills, an adrenaline rush of excitement, but leaves us nothing to interact with theologically. Sometimes that is OK.

Copyright ©2014, Martin Baggs

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