The Underrated: Speed
This may appear to be a strange choice for an underrated film, seeing as it made a colossal amount of cash at the box office at the time, and was greeted with a generally positive (bar a few po-faced douches) reception from critics. It’s also a film that I don’t know anyone personally who doesn’t like it.
However, over the course of time, its reputation is being savaged and it seems to be sinking into the mire of “guilty pleasure”. Forget that, this is no guilty pleasure- it’s a superior thriller and all round legitimately good film.
Just to confirm- this is an extract from The Guardian’s cricket commentary today (bear with me):
Sandra Bullock, who seems to inhabit an alternate universe where she’s the highest-paid actress around, up for an Oscar, and yet I can’t think of a decent film she’s made. I mean, You’ve Got Mail, The Net, Hope Floats, Miss Congeniality. Even Speed was rubbish.
See, or how about this from Amazon:
Maybe it was groundbreaking in its day, but I thought it was contrived and cringeworthy.
I haven’t particularly cherry picked either of these two quotes- the first was completely spontaneous and inspired the review, and the second jumped out when I clicked on the link. However, there are plenty of these type of comments out there- “dated rubbish” seems to be a common comment. I feel this is harsh.
I suppose I had better explain the plot, just in case someone has been living under a rock for the last 15 or so years. Speed is about an embittered nutter holding the city to ransom by placing large and elaborate bombs on various pieces of city ordinance- a lift, a bus and an underground train to be precise (although there is some quibble about the location of said bomb on train as it is technically attached to said lunatic). Keanu Reeves is the cop charged with defusing the bombs and catching the firebug, and Golden Globe Winner Sandra Bullock is the innocent bystander pulled into the fray. What it actually is, however, is a contrived (yes, but so what?) excuse for three gripping set pieces: the rescue of the lift, the bomb on the bus that makes up the majority of the film, and the train crash).
The point being, if you are going to artificially manufacture situations in the name of excitement, at the expense of the plot then you had better flawlessly execute the scenes. In the case of Speed, I honestly think it does.
The lift sequence is really an excuse to introduce us to the cops- Jeff Daniels is amusing as Harry, and Keanu Reeves unusually manages not to suck as Jack. They’ve got some great back and forth banter such as the famous “Pop Quiz” exchange and both characters roles are effectively and simply established- Harry is the brains of the operation, and Jack is the more gung-ho action oriented partner. The lift rescue itself, achieved through rigging the elevator to a conveniently located crane type thingy is exciting stuff- there’s a palpable sense that the poor buggers trapped in the lift may be on the express route down.
The second and far more important section of the film, the bus, is even more exciting. It could have been a bit sterile, given that nobody dies in the first section so there’s no risk, but they make the wise decision to have the bus driver dying and a passenger squashed. This adds an element of risk to the proceedings- these poor people are directly in the line of fire. What comes next may be somewhat silly, (jumping bus etc) but it’s nevertheless exciting stuff.
The final section is more of a typical face off with the baddie scene- but it’s still well put together- and the scene jumping the tracks is excellent. I really don’t know why this film gets so much crap.
The acting, despite the presence of Golden Globe Winner Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves is perfectly adequate for this type of film, but casting Hopper as the mad man was an inspired call. He really hams it up- and seems to thoroughly enjoy playing the embittered lunatic.
Is it flawless? No, the “comedy” black guy is agonising, and several of the bus passengers sink beneath cliché to parody, but they’re incidental. However, I think that the ride is more important than the detail in this case, and I’m more than prepared to let it slide.
Overall, Speed is a good film. It’s a thrilling action ride, and I really don’t understand why it gets the abuse it gets. It’s certainly one of the superior action films from the 90’s and one of the very few (struggles to think of another) Golden Globe Winner Sandra Bullock films that I can rewatch.
Until next time,