Speed (1994) [DVD]

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Perhaps I was still trying to get the nasty taste of A Good Day To Die Hard out of my mouth, but when I came across an old barebones DVD of this 1994 Keanu Reeves-starring action flick I thought I’d put it on, give it 20 minutes and see if it lived up to my memories. That fact that I was still watching when the end credits rolled two hours later gives you the vital clue as to the answer.

Despite the laughably dumb premise (there’s a bomb on board a Los Angeles municipal bus that will go off if its speed drops below 50mph) this Jan De Bont-directed film keeps the plates spinning for the entire running time and never lets off, amping up the tension while also delivering some believable characters whether they be likeable ones such as Jeff Daniels as Harry, Joe Morton as Mac and Sandra Bullock as Annie, or flawed ones like the motley crew of bus passengers that include a young Alan Ruck.

At heart, and rather like the original Die Hard, this is still very much a two-hander with Keanu Reeves the good guy playing off Dennis Hopper’s mad bomber with almost all their interaction taking place over phones and radios. Reeves is often dismissed as an actor but here he does a good job in playing a high-risk daredevil SWAT officer; it’s hard not to smile when Hopper taunts him about ‘not being the brains of the operation’. Hopper meanwhile initially looks like he is wondering how he wandered into this piece of trash but ends up looking like he’s actually thoroughly enjoying the whole affair – which pretty much echoes the feelings of the audience who is similarly will come in expecting something very dumb and then be surprised when it wins them over and impresses them instead.

Although there’s a lot of heavy duty firepower on show here, and lots of things do blow up (one explosion in particular looks as though it might have been rather bigger than the filmmakers themselves were expecting) its notable that nothing here is solved by the good guys coming in with guns blazing – in fact that’s a good way that they get themselves killed. In this film it’s all about outsmarting the opposition, and it’s accordingly a smart script that allows everyone to do this in a believable manner throughout.

Only when the bus is required to jump 50 feet through the air, and another sequence with a subway train crashing, do things really ever falter even slightly. But the film’s going so fast by that point that the momentum of Speed alone will carry you through to a satisfyingly breathless finale that works every bit as well today as it did on first release nearly 20 years ago.

(PS – Don’t touch the sequel with a barge pole.)

Speed is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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