Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: June 10, 1994
DIRECTOR: Jan de Bont
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Andrzej Bartkowiak
WRITER: Graham Yost
MUSIC: Mark Mancina
In 1994, my Uncle James recommended watching a film that he had just seen that he said contained action from beginning to end. So, my dad jumped on it and we rented “Speed” from the video store. It was then that I watched what has gone down as one of my all-time favorite action films.
I was a little hesitant to go back and revisit this film. I must admit that while I love ‘90s action films, most of them are quite dumb in retrospect with little plot to drive them along. I must admit that “Speed” does have a simple plot, yet somehow it manages to be smarter and more exciting than it has any right to be.
Officer Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and his partner Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels) help thwart a ransom demand by bomber Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper). They initially think that Howard took his own life after the failed attempt that opens the film. Jack discovers that Howard is still alive when he is contacted and told that there is a bus with a bomb that is rigged to blow if the bus falls under 50 miles per hour.
Jack finds the bus and is able to get on it, but not before the bus reaches 50 mph. With the help of passenger Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock), Jack must do everything he can to keep the bus going while also trying to figure out how to get the passengers safely off the bus.
Again, the plot is simple, but it is smart in how it deals with this basic premise. The action is as nonstop as the bus and part of the fun is seeing how the people trapped on it will deal with the situations that arise along the way. Just as an example, there is a point where the bus has to take a sharp right turn and Jack has to get all the passengers on the opposite side of the bus so the weight will prevent the bus from tipping over.
The sequences only get bigger and bigger from there. The movie is also helped by having a very strong cast. Say what you will about Keanu Reeves’ acting chops in other films, but he is definitely a bona fide action star and this was the movie that proved it. I may prefer his performances in other films such as “The Matrix” and “John Wick”, but Reeves definitely does a great job here. He also has great chemistry with his co-star, Sandra Bullock.
Bullock became a household name with this role and it’s not really hard to see why that is. Here, she is a strong character that overcomes her understandable fears in order to help Jack out as he tries to save everyone on the bus. While I still don’t think they should have moved forward with a sequel without Reeves, it was at least somewhat understandable that they moved forward with Bullock returning to the role that put her in the spotlight.
The action sequences are fantastic, from the opening in an elevator to a train near the end of the film. Yes, this movie is a shining example of ‘90s action films that were short on plot, but big on spectacle. Unlike so many of those other films, though, “Speed” is still a hair-raising action film that works today as much as it did in ’94.