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Speed
1994 - R - Mins.
Director: Jan De Bont
Producer: Mark Gordon
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels, Joe Morton
Review by: John Ulmer
   
You're going to say one thing after watching "Speed," and that will be "Whoa." This is an action film as exhausting as "Die Hard" and as exhilarating as the "Terminator" movies. It moves with the pacing of a John McTiernan picture and it has the perfection of a James Cameron action film. Its director, Jan De Bont, has worked on such films as "Die Hard" and "The Hunt for Red October," so it's no surprise that he bears a resemblance behind the camera to McTiernan.

The film is blunt, fast-paced and extremely exciting. It stars Keanu Reeves as Jack Traven, a Los Angeles bomb squad member as cool as he is decisive. Jack has been called into duty, along with his partner and friend, Harry (Jeff Daniels), to stop a madman bomber (Dennis Hopper), who has taken control of an elevator and will drop it to the ground unless his demand of three million dollars is met.

Jack takes his chances and ends up saving the day, but not before Harry is taken hostage and survives with a bullet shot. Howard Payne (Hopper) is dead, blown to pieces by his own bomb, and so they all go have a drink and party till the moon goes down and the sun rises up. You get the idea.

But Payne didn't really die, and now he's very mad at a certain somebody who foiled his last plan. He's spent a lifetime being treated as dirt, and he has convinced himself that he deserves the $3 million more than anybody else. Jack begs to differ, but he has no time to argue when Payne reappears and triggers a downtown bus with a bomb. The catch? If the bus accelerates past 50 M.P.H. and then drops below that point as before...kaboom.

Jack manages to board the bus, but not before it reaches 50, and not before the bus driver gets shot by a criminal on the bus and Annie (Sandra Bullock) has to play driver for the rest of the day. The problem is, downtown LA during rush hour is not exactly open to a large bus, so with the help of the LAPD, the bus is driven to a deserted stretch of highway, where they have a limited amount of time to either disarm the bus or pay up the sum of money to Payne.

Meanwhile, Howard Payne is monitoring everything from his position in an apartment in LA, where he has a gadget wired up to the security camera in the bus, so that he can watch everything that's happening. If anyone tries to get off the bus, or if anyone tries to be a hero, he presses a little red button and.kaboom. Only this time, he's determined not to fail.

This is a ludicrously and ridiculously delicious plot. I'm surprised it hasn't been done already. Well, actually, it sorta has. Yes, this film bears an uncanny resemblance to "Die Hard," only on a bus, but you know what? It's just about as good. It's exciting, humorous, and absolutely fun from start to finish. It never stops to go into boring conversations back at the FBI headquarters that so many action films do to try and make them look smarter. It never lets up for a moment once it starts.

All good action films have comedic relief, and "Speed" - apart from occasional witty remarks between Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves and/or Dennis Hopper - has Alan Ruck and Jeff Daniels. You may remember Ruck as Cameron Frye in John Hughes' "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), and you may remember him from the television show "Spin City," and here he plays a tourist who isn't really able to understand the situation they're in on the bus. "The airport?" he says as the bus swerves down a runway. "I've already been here."

Daniels is one of cinema's great character actors with dry subtle humor. He can do dramatics ("Gettysburg"), he can do comedy ("Dumb and Dumber"), and he can now do action. It takes an odd sort of acting genius to subtly upstage Jim Carrey, but he did just that in "Dumb and Dumber" by making a subtle goofball out of his character, Harry Dunne. Here he does the same with the sort of bleak sarcastic quips he was born to say.

Jan De Bont knows how to film action. Just when you think everything's going to slow down after the bus finally stops, we realize it's just the beginning. Payne kidnaps Annie, takes her to a subway train, and tries to run away with her to lure Jack. It works. And in the climatic gripper, Jack and Payne fight on the top of a speeding subway train. It was done in "Mission: Impossible" a small number of years later, but this came first. And the film is better.

Can Keanu Reeves act? Hardly. He does his usual "Whoa" routine here, where his lines primarily consist of long pauses and, "Huh?" "What?" "Whoa," "Wow," "F--k me," "Bogus," and so on. But an action film doesn't need a good actor, and Reeves fits the part. It was his breakthrough action role - without it, he never would have appeared in "The Matrix."

"Speed" is one of the great action films. It bears similarities to "Die Hard," "Lethal Weapon," "RoboCop," "Total Recall," "The Terminator" (1 and 2), "Predator," and all those other hard-punching action films with a fast pace and a real kick (it doesn't bear resemblance to all of the films as much as the raw force behind them). You know the kind of hard action flicks I mean - the kind that make you feel beaten up by the time it's all over. The kinds that make you leave the theater bruised and swollen.

You're going to be going 50 miles per hour watching "Speed," and in this case, that's a good - no, great - thing.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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