Speed (1994) — The perils of public transportation

“Pop quiz, hot shot!”

Justin’s rating: A bus going 55 in Detroit would be smooshed FLAT by the morning commute here!

Justin’s review: “Speed” means you’re going really fast. Or you’re on drugs. Or you’re trapped in a bizarre universe where Keanu Reeves is intelligent, witty and capable of stringing together more than three words that communicate more than “whoa.”

I recently bought the Five Star Collection edition of Speed. It looked very important, five stars and all, but then it got me wondering if there’s a four-star collection. And then I was worried about those poor damned souls condemned to the one-star collection. As there are many circular levels in cinematic hell, so there are levels in movie heaven, and I guess Speed is the king of the mountain.

Well, if you pay attention to the packaging, at least.

Speed was a small landmark in my movie history, as it was the first R-rated film I openly went to the theaters after turning 18. Sure, nowadays five-year-old teething preschoolers have all seen Hannibal, but it was a big thing in my family. Me. Justin. Out on my own. Goin’ to see Keanu say a number of dirty, dirty words. It was my tribal rite-of-passage experience, and I chose well.

At its core, Speed is really an essay on public transportation and all the ways that it can go horribly, horribly wrong. Why mad bombers concentrate on people mass-movers like busses and subway cars when they could be putting the thumbscrews to those idiots in beemers and SUV land tanks is a good question. Elevators are already crowded and awkward — do you really need to make one plunge forty stories just to make it worse? Busses move at three miles an hour and have the pleasant fragrance of urine — do we have to force them to go on a city-wide demolition derby just because the commute is already intolerable? Subway cars… well, those people deserve what’s coming to them.

Reeves plays Jack, a butch haircut of a SWAT team member, who pits his grim determination against a terrorist bomber with a chip on his shoulders. What Jack is lacking in the brain department is overcome by his willingness to jump onto and crawl under moving vehicles. It’s a specific skillset that came in very handy on a single day. Jack’s a bit put off that his partner is “Dumber” from Dumb and Dumber, but he holds his tongue as long as no one brings up the Point Break debacle again.

Action movies like Speed have a minimum of dialogue draping its stunt-oriented skeleton. Usually, in action movies, this dialogue is fairly reactionary. Something blows up: “Holy [bad word]!” Evil guy does something evil and the good guy sees it: “I’m going to get you, you [poopy pants]!” Barely amusing sidekick goes along with Insane Hero’s plan, even though it’ll probably get them all killed: “I don’t know why I’m doing this!”

Anyway, you get the picture; it’s a lot of stock phrases, an entire script worth of exclamation points. However, some movies, like Speed, actually use their dialogue to an advantage, bringing a smidge of humanity and humor to scenes between enormous slow-mo fireballs erupting. Maybe you won’t appreciate this, but when Speed manages to be more nimble on its verbal toes than any James Bond flick, well, it’s a charmer.

Plus, and hey, it’s got Cameron from Ferris Bueller as a nerdy tourist in L.A.. “When Cameron was in Egypt’s land…let my Cameron gooooooo.”

What everyone was talking about when this film came out, of course, was the highly unlikely — yet pretty cool — bus jump. Funnily enough, this seems to be the least exciting part of the movie now. And the most ridiculous. Just watch the scene: First the bus somehow has to jump this gap in the highway that is unavoidable… even though the movie shows three separate branches that the highway splits into. Okay, well, they digitally erase a section of the highway from the other branch, too, and block off the third one. Couldn’t the police have moved the barricade or something? Then, the bus gets to the gap going, tops, 70mph, and suddenly lurches up on its hind legs, like a horse rearing.

I’m not exactly sure why it would have done this, seeing as how the highway didn’t quickly ramp up or anything right before the gap, but suddenly the bus is doing a wheelie. And then it makes the jump, in several slow-mo cuts, and all of them show the same two second event: a bus flying through the air, quite noticeably dropping like the two-ton stone it is. But you’re given another cut, and it’s still in the air! And another! And another! And finally, through the miracle of editing, it makes it to the other side. Without blowing any tires, I might add.

Still, we nitpick those we love. And Speed is still a terrific action flick that manages to still make your butt muscles clench mightily as bus number 2525 roars down the streets of L.A. at an unstoppable 50 mph. It’s a good workout for your rear, I say.

Didja notice?

  • Opening title sequence contains an overture of the score used in the film
  • Keanu just flies his car in… yahoo
  • Cameron is a tourist, hehe
  • Is that an honest-to-God miner on the bus?
  • Cameron taking a picture from the bus of Jack jumping from the car is priceless
  • Cameron’s interpreting a very bad word as “Oh, darn”
  • Busses are fun to wreck things with
  • The moment when Jack and the girl slide off the bus still gives me chills
  • Filmed on location on LA’s 105 freeway before it was opened to the public.
  • The freight plane blown up at the end of the film has the company logo “Pacific Courier” painted on its side. This same logo appeared on the terrorist’s van in Die Hard, and is an in-joke of production designer Jackson De Govia.
  • Keanu Reeves breaking the glass on the bus door in the beginning of the movie was an accident, however it was left in the final cut (in subsequent shots, you can see the door glass isn’t broken)
  • The chain pulling the first exploding bus is clearly visible.
  • If the subway train’s throttle control is operative, why doesn’t Jack slow the train down to a minimal speed?

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