Speed Review

Macho leading lad Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) is an encapsulation of everything so wonderful about the action genre. More specifically, everything defiant and odd about the 1990s portion of this line of filmmaking. What a wonderful bit of destruction it is. Speed and director Jan de Bont are of the “if it isn’t broke, blow something up,” mentality, and it works especially well here. Buses jumping through flames, Reeves and the cast looking generally rather worried about the events transpiring here. Naturally, it’s all backed up with a stunning soundtrack and a supporting role from Dennis Hopper. Who knows why it worked so drastically well. In an iconographic car crash of the times, audiences will count themselves extremely lucky that Weezer does not make an appearance.  

But perhaps Weezer would have changed the pace Speed offers. Oddly enough for a film called Speed, de Bont still gives audiences time to feel a bit ill or bored. As the camera swivels around and around without any particular focus, the panic is almost palpable. Not just on the screen as the strong arm of the law deal with a destructive set of circumstances, but behind as the camera crashes into different points of vague interest. Round and round the merry-go-round go, spinning away with no experienced focus. Extreme close-ups confirm the suspicion that this is, indeed, a stressful time for all involved, but the uncontrollably shaky camera makes it hard to focus on the presumably frightful mission these men are taking part in.  

At least the story itself is strong, and the action when given a moment to breathe is relatively fun and destructive. Hopper in particular is a magnificent asset, but even he is not saved from the nonplussed way de Bont makes the points of interest apparent. Zooms, dialogue to explain what an audience is looking at, and then a few scenes of dealing with said diversion. It all has the pitter-patter and pacing needed for an action film, but not the memorable dialogue of other 1990s action blockbusters like Heat or Leon: The Professional, or the meritable effectiveness of strong set pieces, like The Rock or Mission: Impossible. Leaving out both of those assets makes Speed wriggle around in the uncomfortable middle ground, neither striving to be accepted by either group nor putting up enough resistance to stop the tropes from either style of action weighing in on where the story is headed. 

Jaunty little bits of dialogue are offered rather frequently, but to what end? “You’re not going to shoot them, right?” Temple asks of Traven when bringing up the subject of elevator-bound hostages. Naturally, Speed is best remembered for the bus that simply does not slow down, no matter how much they would like to go at a respectable speed, the bomb strapped to them is, inevitably, a cause of concern. High speeds do not equate to high octane or high energy, and that is the fatal blow for Speed. It is a good film, but not a great one. Its action is compact and shaky, its moments of interest voided by the direction of a man too indecisive to focus on one part or another. It takes the power out of speed and decelerates an otherwise promising Reeves vehicle.  

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