Pop quiz, hotshot! There’s a fantastic film at the box office. Once the film earns beau-coup bucks, a franchise is imminent. If the sequel bombs, the franchise goes up in smoke. What could you call that? If you answered Sequel Suicide, consider yourself a regular vault reader. Sequel Suicide is a two-part feature here at the vault wherein we review a positively received motion picture followed by a spotlight on its franchise-ending sequel.
In a Los Angeles skyscraper, the lives of an elevator full of people literally hang in the balance as officers Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels) and Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) recon the work of mad bomber, Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper). Following Jack’s gut, the two opt a rescue attempt and locate the bomber in a nearby freight elevator. Payne dies in an explosion of his own doing, or so they think until he blows up an LA bus as a warning to Jack. With a second bus wired to blow when the clock strikes 11:00 am or its speed drops below 50 mph, Jack boards the fated Bus 2525 while Harry hunts for clues to stop the psychopath.
I recall not much caring for Speed when I first saw it back in the 90s. At the time, Sandra Bullock was growing on me thanks to Demolition Man, but I wasn’t convinced “Ted Theodore Logan” was much of an action star, and Dennis Hopper was little more than a hammy villain from Super Mario Bros. Cameras mounted on the bus can be seen during some stunts. Other things just don’t make sense. For example, Jack and Harry race up 32 flights of stairs in full SWAT gear, but don’t break a sweat. And don’t even get me started on that preposterous bus jumping scene. That’s all so funny because now it’s one of those movies that draws me in whenever I run across it.
I watch because Speed is two-hours of pulse-pounding thrills! Audiences know Hopper’s Payne is a maniac because he stabs an innocent bystander within the story’s first minute. From that point on the script, crafted by Justified writer-developer Graham Yost and polished by Joss Whedon of Buffy fame, is a non-stop string of explosions, compounding dilemmas, and death-defying situations. Bullock imparts Annie Porter with the stress and anxiety of a substitute bus driver trying not to get everyone killed as she contends with traffic jams, off-ramps, and pedestrians. Meanwhile, Reeves’ Jack furrows his brow while searching for any safe idea that will take the hostages out of the equation.
Though Speed is Jan de Bont’s directorial debut, the human elements are what makes the action sequences so nerve-wracking. Strong supporting actors Alan Ruck, Beth Grant and Carlos Carrasco respectively playing a tourist, a helpful construction worker, and a panicked passenger create a sympathetic set of potential victims, drawing audiences into the plight.
In the immortal words of Adam West’s Batman, “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” While the sentiment may not be as farcical, Speed appeals to viewers, despite itself, because it embodies that frustration, urgency and excitement. That whirlwind of action and danger will suck you in every time.
Don’t forget to tune in Friday for the second half of Sequel Suicide featuring Speed 2: Cruise Control!