Bottom Line: Not quite a classic, but certainly worth a watch.
Directed by: Jan de Bont
Starring: Alan Ruck, Beth Grant, Dennis Hopper, Glenn Plummer, Hawthorne James, Jeff Daniels, Joe Morton, Keanu Reeves, Richard Lineback, Sandra Bullock
Skilled bomber Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) executes a plan he has been plotting for two whole years–an elevator bombing–but ends up taking not one life when the Los Angeles Police Department intervenes. Furious and in need of money, he strategically plants a bomb on a bus, notifies LAPD Officer Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves), and watches the entire experience through one of his living room televisions. As Officer Traven assists the bus’s passengers, he must maintain a speed of above fifty miles per hour, and he must not let anyone off the bus, or else Payne will set off the bomb. Things grow hectic when the bus driver is shot by a panicking passenger, and a young woman (Sandra Bullock) with no experience with driving buses takes the wheel.
Director Jan de Bont knows how to make an action movie. Prior to this film, his directorial debut, he had served as the cinematographer for action flicks such as DIE HARD, BLACK RAIN, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, and LETHAL WEAPON 3. Seeing from those credits, we are convinced that he can turn the writing by Graham Yost into something magnificent. He does. There are some missteps unmissable in the final product, however. The cinematography is far too bright for an action film. You’d expect this kind of coloration to appear in an upbeat drama. Moreover, the key “bad guy” is incredibly corny, so much that he almost seems a joke.
Blemishes aside, SPEED is a very thrilling film. It starts off slowly, with a creative, symbolic credit sequences that wipes down a credit for each floor of an elevator, before finally reaching ground floor. It’s not until Payne’s opening elevator bombing scheme is over that the actioner skyrockets into a pulsepounding event filled with nonstop, hectic action. Empowered by great performances from Bullock and Reeves, as well as De Bont’s marvelous directing, it’s lots of implausible fun, the kind that makes your heart rate crank one notch faster from each minute of screen time.