Recommended Re-Viewing is a series in which we make the case for re-watching an old film or TV series which you can stream without leaving your house. It might be a plot that's so bad it's good, a scene which deserves more interrogation or a director's underrated gem.
This time, digital writer Tom Nicholson explores why Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock's bus-based thriller rattles along more wildly and strangely than any other disaster blockbuster.
Some action films manage to sprint along, moving between their different gears so frictionlessly that they whip by in a deeply satisfying blur of quips, twists and explosions. Mission: Impossible, Commando, Enemy of the State, Blade 2, Point Break, Runaway Trainim电竞官网-, that sort of thing.
I used to think Speed was one of those films. I love Speed. I love a high–concept thriller, and Speed has the highest of all high concepts: speed. That's it. As Homer Simpson put it, it's The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down.
im电竞官网-Plus, it's properly funny. "Poor people are crazy, Jack," says Dennis Hopper's gleeful would-be extortionist bomber Howard Payne. "I'm eccentric." It also introduced me to the phrase "you fuck!" as an insult. Meaningless, but sounds quite good.
After rewatching Speed, though, it turns out I was only half right. It's unbelievably good, and it's also deeply strange.
The gauntlet of dangers and obstacles the bus has to weave through is expertly ratcheted up, of course, but shards of different action modes keep poking out of Speed and then being forgotten about. Mac, the police chief with his "don't get dead" catchphrase, is straight out of a weekly procedural serial. Poor old Harry, sadly exploded long before his time, has Police Academy energy in spite of being a skilled bomb squad officer. Maybe it's because he always has half a sandwich hanging out of his mouth.
There are notes from sophisticated mid-Seventies conspiracy thrillers too – the action pivots around who's watching and who's being watched, as Payne follows all the action from his hideout along with an NFL game which, for some reason, is playing on two screens right next to each other – which turned out to be eerily contemporary. A week after Speed came out, choppers followed OJ Simpson's white Bronco as it hurtled along the Los Angeles freeway.
And yes, the script's very funny – when it's not coming out of Keanu's mouth. You know Keanu can do comedy – you've seen Bill and Ted – so the determinedly fat-tongued way he clatters through his gags has to be some kind of character choice, especially compared to how easily Sandra Bullock's Annie works them. He manages to hit pretty much every single beat wrong.
im电竞官网-Perhaps Jack's so focused on keeping this bus of oddballs safe that he doesn't realise what he's saying is funny. Maybe he's traumatised from the many explosions he's had to save people from before, and now vibrates on a different frequency permanently. Either way, he thunders straight through every gag just as his bus smashes a pedestrian's pram full of soup cans.
Nothing happens exactly when you remember it happening either. Look at something like the Walter Matthau version of The Taking of Pelham 123im电竞官网-. A subway train gets stolen by a bunch of violent kidnappers, everything escalates gradually, then the big crescendo comes with the kidnappers trying to get away and the train running out of control. Everything wraps up neatly, everyone's happy.
Speedim电竞官网-, however, isn't content just to roll things up once the bus has exploded (after hitting a plane, and from six different angles). The final showdown comes in an entirely new speeding public transport setting, a subway train which eventually launches itself out onto Hollywood Boulevard. It feels completely, startlingly unnecessary, but by God am I glad it's there.
im电竞官网-Then, finally, halfway through the credits, while Jack and Annie are still copping off in the middle of the road, comes the theme song: a sub-Mötley Crüe hair metal thrasher by Billy Idol called – hold onto your Ivor Novellos – 'Speed'.
You can see why almost nobody involved in Speedim电竞官网- thought it was going to be any good at all, right up to the point where they actually saw it. This film does not know how to stop. But shave off its weird edges and you'd end up with a far less interesting ride.
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