Today! Because poor people are crazy, Jack. I’m eccentric –
Directed by Jan de Bont (x2)
Starring Keanu Reeves (x3), Sandra Bullock (x2), Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels (x2), Joe Morton (x2), Alan Ruck (x3), Richard Lineback, Glenn Plummer, Beth Grant, Hawthorne James, Carlos Carrasco (x2), Patrick Fischler, Richard Schiff, Veronica Cartwright
Our second and final Jan de Bont directorial effort (sorry, Tomb Raider 2 fans!), Speed is the greatest pure adrenaline film of the ’90s, putting it squarely in the conversation for Best Action Film of All Time. I’ve got one actioner from the decade still to come, but I’d probably give Speed the nod in terms of quality, and it definitely holds the edge in evaluating its sheer awesomeness. What’s more awesome than Speed, I ask you? Not much! None of its three big sequences – elevator, bus, subway – disappoint, you’ve got Dennis Hopper’s career villain highlight (okay, except Blue Velvet), you’ve got vintage Keanu Reeves not required to do a ton of talking, and you’ve got that goofy, illogical jump across the stretch of missing highway that should’ve broken the reality of the film into pieces right then and there, and yet somehow it’s the most exciting thing ever.
It’s got that glossy, hyper-edited ’90-ness to it that is instantly identifiable with the decade, and it doesn’t flag for a moment. Not one damn moment. Sure, it’s a simple enough premise, but the fact that it somehow maintains momentum across nearly two hours is remarkable. They take quick moments to throw character stuff in, and poor Jeff Daniels plays second fiddle to Keanu, getting shot by him and later (spoiler alert) blown the hell up – that’s his entire role in the film! Also, I never pieced together that Daniels’ two biggest films from ’94 both have him playing characters named Harry. Is it possible he survives Speed, but is so brain damaged by the ordeal that he morphs straight into Dumb and Dumber? Fun new way to look at both films!
What really sets Speed apart from similar-ish crashing/careening/sweating movies of the time, though, is Sandra Bullock. This was the film that put her on the map – directly after her second banana-ing with Stallone in Demolition Man – and she gives what could’ve been a stressful, joyless dude-centric disaster film some charm and witty banter and fun romance where no one was looking for it. She’s so effective that even though Keanu wisely did not return for a sequel, producers felt they were fine going ahead with Sandy on a boat, aided by a game Jason Patric.
Jan de Bont’s career never really recovered from his second go-around with Bullock’s Annie getting chased. He’d direct two more movies – the semi-successful The Haunting and that second Lara Croft thing – before hanging it up. I don’t pretend to understand all the ins and outs of de Bont’s career, but the guy who brought us Twister and Speed within two years of each other certainly should have directed more than five movies. His DP work before this was legendary – Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October, Lethal Weapon 3, Basic Instinct, Flatliners, er, Leonard Part 6, but that too dried up in the early ’00s. He’s 76 years old now, and hasn’t made a movie in seventeen years, so I don’t expect a comeback, but I do feel like we as a people got cheated out of a bunch of potentially great films due to the greed-driven catastrophe that was Speed 2: Cruise Control. For all his great action success, and fine cinematography work, he received basically no positive awards, and instead was chased by four Razzie nominations, three for Speed 2 alone. He won none, because thankfully Kevin Costner’s The Postman also came out in 1997.
As I mentioned in #84 Twister, the wife is a huge Jan de Bont fan, with both of these films frequently mentioned among her favorites, when I press her for details on her personal Top 400 (she’s shared about eight films with me). To my knowledge, she’s never seen the sequel – maybe that’ll seal the deal, de Bont wise! Maybe she’ll be the one huge fan of Cruise Control! I don’t really remember it – I saw it in theaters, and want to say I might’ve left early, for some reason? I’m not one to walk out of even the worst of movies, so I think we actually had something else we had to do. Maybe it’s time to give it another shot! I mean, come on, how bad can it really be?
Speed won two Oscars, for Sound and Sound Effects Editing, while also picking up Sound and Editing BAFTAs, and a load of MTV Movie Awards. But has the true film MVP Glenn Plummer ever been recognized for his terrific contribution to the movie? I’d say not!
The big group of new Two-Timers joining the director include Bullock (#390 Gravity), Daniels (#203 Purple Rose of Cairo), Morton (#110 Terminator 2), and Gigantor himself Carlos Carrasco (#148 The Fisher King), but it’s Keanu (#350 Bram Stoker’s Dracula, #268 The Matrix) and Alan Ruck (Twister, #65 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) leading the way, advancing to the Threes!