Speed (Five Star Collection) (1994)
Review by Doc Ezra

Written by Graham Yost
Directed by Jan De Bont
Starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and Dennis Hopper


Rating: R

Anamorphic: Yes, 2.35:1 widescreen.

My Advice: Own it.

One day, in the early 90s, a man had a vision. "Let us take a huge stack of money, and buy some buses. And perhaps a subway car," he said. "Let us then hire some celebrities, and some cameras, and commence to blowing stuff up and ramming the buses into as many objects as possible. And we'll film the whole thing." Thus was Speed born. A simple movie with a simple premise, brilliantly executed, it tells the tale of a fateful bus ride, a mad bomber, and the cop attempting to save the day.

I know what you're all thinking. "Keanu Reeves? Come on, man, I'd rather watch my grandma fall down stairs." But seriously, how much acting depth does it require to stand at the front of a bus in a flak vest, shouting driving directions to a frazzled (and not yet famous) Sandra Bullock? The real star of this movie is the stunt director, and a very battered bus (well, actually 12 buses painted and constructed to look like the same bus, but that's nit-picking). Speed is an elaborate excuse to string some truly outrageous stunts together, at as breakneck a pace as could reasonably be sustained. In this, it is a triumphant success. Push the criteria any further, and the film begins to show its weaknesses.

The acting is passable, though Hopper occasionally seems as if he's just phoning it in, playing the same demented psycho he's used since Frank Booth. The story is absolutely linear, with nothing major in the way of twists and turns. True, the various obstacles faced by our hero occasionally provide interesting wrinkles, but nothing really comes out of left field to change the flow of the movie. The stunts are huge, involving massive public transporation and large concrete edifices and the occasional half-finished overpass.

The DVD is packed, a two-disc affair separating all the features except the commentaries onto the second disc. The bonus material on the stunts is extensive in the extreme, providing 15-30 minute featurettes on each of the huge stunts, multi-angle views of the four major gags, and some storyboard-to-film comparisons. Add in an on-location featurette, some massive still galleries, the screenplay itself, interviews with all the stars and the director, an HBO making-of special, and promotional materials, and you've got a worthy bonus disc indeed. The commentaries are likewise excellent, with De Bont's discussion revolving around the hands-on and technical aspects of putting the film together, while Yost and Gordon talk about the conceptualization of the film and how it compares to the finished product.

Basically, Speed is one of those films that works best if taken at face value. Anybody that can see the trailer and expect a heavy drama with lots of character development needs their head examined. The product is exactly as advertised - big, loud, destructive, simple, and beautiful for all of that. The very definition of a summer blockbuster, it scores big by going big. Taking the stunts to the extreme gets them a little more leeway from the audience with regards to the more subtle aspects of the film, like plot and character. So get a bowl of popcorn, shut your brain off, slap this in the player, and let the big, friendly, flickering box hurl high-octane eyecandy at you for a couple of hours.

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