VOD film review: Speed
James R | On 29, Aug 2020
Director: Jan de Bont
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels
“There’s a bomb on your bus.” That’s Jack (Keanu Reeves) to a bus driver in Speed, a film that wastes zero seconds in getting into gear and doesn’t take its foot off the pedal. Fittingly for its title, the 1994 thriller is a flawlessly paced ride: its runtime is almost two hours, but it feels like it’s gone in 60 seconds.
That remarkable tempo kicks in from the riveting opening, which sees Jack and longtime colleague Harry (Jeff Daniels) rescuing some passengers from a sabotaged lift. Doing the sabotage? Howard (Dennis Hopper), a bomber with a vendetta both against the police and against Jack – a vendetta that gets bigger and bigger, matched by the escalating size of his planned explosions.
The central one is, of course, the bus 2525, which finds itself under more than the usual commuter pressure when Howard plants some C4 under the carriage – hooked up to the speedometer so that if it goes below 50 miles per hour, it detonates. It’s a horribly simply device, and that efficiency is evident throughout the whole movie, from the way it introduces its characters to the perfect way it steps up the stakes with every new twist.
Jack and Harry’s dynamic, one hot-headed and the other calm and experienced, is immediately convincing and entertaining – managing not only to give us all we need to know about our heroes, but also foreshadow the film’s climactic showdown. When Jack does board the bus, the passengers are an eclectic bunch of stock roles, but in a reassuringly familiar way; there’s the self-centred douche, the compassionate driver and the shifty young person, each one setting up their own suspenseful set piece. Graham Yost’s screenplay contains just enough shading in of the ensemble to make them believable without taking up too much screentime.
The same is true of Sandra Bullock’s Annie, who emerges as the smartest, coolest head on-board. Over the 116 minutes, she grows from being the convenient choice to hold the steering wheel to Jack’s co-lead in her own right.
Streamlining relationships wouldn’t be possible with a cast at the top of its game, and Speed’s performances are top-notch. Bullock brings A-list chemistry to her back-and-forth with Reeves, while Keanu is charismatic enough to sell the Hollywood action hero schtick, while also being driven and focused enough to avoid the need for a melodramatic back-story. The insanely versatile Jeff Daniels, who also starred in Dumb and Dumber in the same year, brings comic relief and pathos to the party – the ideal counterpart to Hopper’s maniacal villain, who’s just lucid and bitter enough to make it clear that he thinks he’s the real hero of the story.
At the helm, Jan de Bont lines up each set piece with non-stop adrenaline, keeping things practical and immediate without skimping on flames and flair. Fuelled by Mark Mancina’s propulsive score and the kinetic editing of John Wright (Broken Arrow, X-Men, Apocalypto), the result is a masterclass in economy and a definitive on-wheels, single-location thriller. The kind of lightning-in-a-bottle blockbusting that happens when everyone involved is bringing their A-game, Speed cemented Keanu’s stardom, made a star of Bullock and led its director to make Twister. Years on, spoofs in everything from The Simpsons to Father Ted prove just how iconic the film remains. The less said about Speed 2, the better.