Speed

Speed

****

Reviewed by: James Benefield

There are many factors which make it work, but the genius of Speed is in its high concept. There's a bomb on an LA bus; if the bus goes below 50 miles an hour, the bomb will explode.

Keanu Reeves is Jack Traven, a cop used to working with explosives who gets embroiled in the farrago. The scenario is perpetrated by bomb enthusiast Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), responsible for a previous LA terror attack inside a skyscraper. Also caught up in the mayhem is innocent passenger Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock). Working with his cop partner Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels), who manages the situation remotely, Jack finds his way on to the bus. The plan now is to rescue the passengers and cause as little damage as possible.

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Speed arguably remains Keanu Reeves' finest hour. Although he was a known presence on the art house circuit through his work with Ken Branagh, Gus Van Sant and Bernardo Bertolucci, and known to the MTV generation with Point Break and the Bill And Ted movies, it was Speed that cemented him as a credible lead in a Hollywood film. Literally and metaphorically, he's more in control here than in later hits The Matrix and Constantine.

The movie is also important in the careers of its director and its female lead, Bullock. This truly was Bullock's breakthrough, with critics noticing her everywoman affability and unthreatening girl-next-door good looks. For a good deal of the movie she drives the bus, and is the film's heart and soul. Director Jan de Bont has never again made a film which has made such an impact. It's unfortunate really, as this is his debut. He hasn't directed another movie since the one-two whammy of mediocrity which was The Haunting and Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life.

None of this would matter if the film wasn't any good. Thankfully it remains a heart-in-your-mouth experience, and partly because of that concept. It's impressive how de Bont manages to keep such a level of tension throughout its two-hour length with such a premise. But it’s done because there’s always so much at stake.

A lot of this has got to do with the movie's extended prologue. This establishes the hero and the villain's characters and both of their modus operandi. You feel like you know these people. Subsequently, Keanu doesn’t board the bus until almost 40 minutes in. This pacing is also key so the movie does not run out of road.

Also, unlike the bus, the movie always has a bigger picture. Throughout its many narrative twists and turns, there’s a gradual racheting up of tension as every avenue of terror is explored. And there are always more roads coming off each one of these avenues.

This means despite foibles such as its age, some strange hairstyle choices, bad WordArt title sequence and upsettingly hammy soundtrack, Speed is still streets ahead of most modern blockbusters.

Reviewed on: 06 Jun 2010
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Speed packshot
A blackmailer places a bomb on a bus. The bomb will explode if the bus slows down.
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Director: Jan de Bont

Writer: Graham Yost

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels

Year: 1994

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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