Sunday, 27 November 2016

Weekend TV Movie Review: Speed (1994), Channel 4

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels 
Genre: Action Thriller
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $350 million 

Plot: L.A police officer, Jack angers retired bomb squad member, Howard by foiling his attempt at taking hostages. In revenge, Howard arms a bus with a bomb that will explode if it drops below 50 miles per hour. With the help of spunky passenger, Annie, Jack and his partner, Harry try to save the people on the bus before the bomb goes off, whilst also trying to figure out how Jack is monitoring them 

'The Adrenaline-Rush Driving & Action Scenes Make Up For A Taut, One Dimensional Direction'

Essentially ''Die Hard on a bus'', the first time I saw Speed premiere on television way back during the late 1990s, I was blown away by the stunts and action sequences, which really elevated this film. When it aired on channel 4, I thought I'd re-watch it again to see how it stands up: and it is still as enjoyable and thrilling as it was all those years ago. However, it seems that the direction that Dutchman Jan De Bont (Die Hard, Twister) took was a bit one-dimensional. 

Speed is a three-act action movie: 1) Jack going after Howard on foot, 2) Jack along with the passengers find themselves under Howard's watchful and beady eye, as he monitors what is going on, 3) Jack and Howard go at it against each other, with Jack rescuing Annie.  

The simple story goes is that an ex-cop has put a bomb on a bus that is filled with passengers and the bomb will explode if the bus goes under 50 miles. If the bus hits 50 MPH, the bomb is set off. So what do you do? Well Jack has to go after the bus and to locate the bomb and in Sandra Bullock's character, Annie, the only thing she can do is to take the wheel and to keep on driving, but at the same time try to keep it steady on the steering wheel. Which isn't an easy thing to do, especially when you have a bomb strapped underneath the bus. But thanks to cop Jack, he does his best to guide Annie, as well as to defuse the situation and calm down the other passengers. 

One of the highlights is when as the bus is still moving, there is a gap in the freeway (known as the highway) and somehow through Annie, they manage to get over it and still survive. Which is incredible - although had that happened in real life, chances of getting out of that scenario alive, would be rather slim. 

The story is exciting and extremely riveting in places, but also one that is rather drawn out -, yet it is the way this is conceived and how it is unfolded in front of the viewers' eyes, that makes it so highly watchable from beginning to end. In fact, the first 20 mins or so is not very interesting: it's only when Jack gets on the bus and tells the passengers the dying truth that Speed starts to build momentum, and that this is sustained throughout. It is from then onwards where the film rarely stops and for it to take a breather. The action sequences are astounding at times. The cinematography gives this movie a very urban-ish, street-wise look to it, which is great. The script is witty at times with some amusing lines uttered by Annie and Jack to name. 

The chemistry between the leads, Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves works splendidly, and I'm not usually a fan of his movies, and though I sometimes find it hard to believe that he would play this character, Keanu made him extremely likeable. In her career breakout role, Bullock does herself justice as an unlikely ally to Jack and doesn't overplay her role, not to mention it was one that gave her a major boost to her career. The late Dennis Hopper turns on the screw as the conniving, psycho bad guy and he really revels in his role. Some of the other characters, such as a few of the bus passengers, however, I didn't really care for. 

As an action movie, it delivers on what it sets out to do, but one argument I'd make against Speed is that it does lack that grittiness that would have made it even better as a film of this genre. There is hardly that much gore and blood, obscenities and curse words are limited to 2 uses of the F-word and it lacks that dark edge that would have elevated it further. It is a type of action movie you can even show to your granny - it's nothing too dark or cynical. 

When the story gets bogged down right after the scene when everyone - or be it almost everyone gets off the bus alive during the final act, that is when Speed stars to lose its edge and excitement, a tiny bit. Still, as a debut directorial effort from Jan De Bont (and the only overly decent one), he manages to take a simple premise and goes above and beyond to make it as utterly entertaining, riveting and highly watchable. 

This was impressive, as he keeps the viewers guessing and 'oooh-ing & 'arrrgh-ing' as to what will happen next.

Final Verdict:

For those of you who love your action movies, the need for 'speed' is here: the plot is fairly substandard if a little far-fetched and the direction Jan De Bont takes is rather pedestrian in nature - but it is the rest of the film whereby it unfolds that is so highly entertaining, gripping on occasions and action-packed. 
Though of course came the sequel; without Keanu Reeves reprising his role, it ended up being a turkey and nowhere near as good as this effort. Keanu Reeves revels as Jack and delivers a memorable performance, whereas I enjoyed Sandra Bullock's role here. 

A non-stop thrill ride, one of the best chase movies, ever and by suspending your disbelief for 2 hours, Speed is definitely worth taking a spin and it still holds up today as one of the truly ultimate and best '90s action flicks, & one that understandably paved the way for many others to follow suit - yet many have sadly proven to be not as good as Speed


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