90s Movie Challenge Week 25: Speed (1994)

Welcome chums, to another exciting instalment of #90sMC. Lionel Richie knew what he was talking about when he exclaimed that he “Can’t Slow Down” (Although I seriously doubt he was rigged to explode if he did, Ed.) and neither can we! At the halfway point of our celebration of 90s Cinema, Chris Lupton takes us to 1994 for the most exciting bus ride in history – Speed!

Pop quiz hotshots; an ex-bomb defusal cop turned terrorist is holding a bus-load of passengers ransom with a bomb that will detonate if the speed drops below 50kmh (that’s about 30mph for us Brits). How do you defuse the bomb and make out with the co-lead? Answer; hire Keanu Reeves.

Not a red London double-decker; “I’m terribly sorry to bother you, but I’m afraid there’s a bomb on your bus.”

That’s right, 1994 is possibly one of the golden years of modern cinema. Schindler’s List, The Lion King, Forrest Gump, Mrs. Doubtfire, – the list goes on – but it’s Jan de Bont’s Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock headlining action romp Speed which titillates and exhilarates audiences.

As an experience, Speed is an original concept with some tight action set pieces and memorable moments.
Pacing wise, it surprised me on the recent re-watch how long it takes before the film gets us to the main action set aboard a West Coast city bus, but the sequences leading up to it (with a botched ransom attempt and narrative building ‘heroes piece’) don’t detract from the speed (wink wink) at which de Bont’s film moves.

Nostalgia pangs; I remember watching Speed with my parents on VHS rental, followed by the subsequent games that ensued with my matchbox toy red double-decker (it was the closest British analog), involving reciting such Shakespeare worthy lines as ‘Pop quiz  hotshot,’ and ‘There’s a bomb on your bus!’ (You must pronounce it in a strained, gravelly-voiced surfer dude sort of way that only Reeves can master).

As a concept, it’s thoroughly plausible, but some of the ropier moments come in the sequences designed to grit your teeth. Right-hand turns, 50-foot gaps, queues of LA traffic, they can’t drop below 50 – what are they going to do?! This however is the charm of the 80’s and 90’s action film tropes; remove the reality of physics and plausibility of context, and just enjoy the pretty, pretty visuals.

Vic Reeves and Sandra Bullock, falling in love

As mentioned before, the cast is led by Reeves (Keanu, not Vic) and Bullock; Reeves, a slightly grizzled, partially roguish cop to stroke and assure Bullock’s 9 to 5 heroine thrust into the situation as the bus’s stand-in driver (after Sam, everyone’s favourite busser, takes a bullet to the – somewhere, it’s never clarified).

Up against them is the late and great Dennis Hopper, the aggrieved former cop retired from duty on disability grounds with a real bee in his bonnet about pensions and gold watches. Hopper’s character starts off early in the flick, with a quick pit stop to a downtown LA skyscraper where he almost manages to offload a lift’s worth of annoying corporate types, were it not for those pesky kids (Reeves and his supporting co-star, Jeff Daniels).

I wonder what this button does…

Daniels (Jeff, not Helen of 90’s Australian soap-opera fame Neighbors – although I’d pay to see that) brings up the rear in the supporting cast, taking a bullet to the leg in the opening action sequences and thus, remaining relegated begrudgingly to a literal supporting role via chunky 90’s mobile phone.

The passenger cast that make up the number of the 2525 bus are well suited and don’t feel out of place. Admittedly I only recognised Cameron from Ferris Bueller (for giggles, I pretended this was Cameron (Alan Ruck) on his first ‘out of Chicago’ tourist trip, gone horribly wrong. Unfortunately, Ferris was nowhere to be seen, which is a shame because I’d happily leave him onboard, the obnoxious little…).

There are some typically cheesy one-liners and cringeworthy action moments, but none aged quite so badly as the films infamous money shot moment, with the bus supposedly clearing a 50ft gap.

The freeway’s out, the vehicle itself is only travelling below a paltry 70 MPH – and despite the intention being that they were meant to be taking some sort of ramp, thus gaining height and trajectory – it’s quite clear the bloody thing should plummet like a sack of rocks to a fiery death below.

Instead, the bus gains a form of sentience like Herbie the lovebug and decides to spring itself off the edge of the freeway gap, sailing through the air before landing on the other side to whoops and cheers (for a fun read, have a glance at https://maththrills.com/speed/).

Physics. PHYSICS.

Asides from that cringey moment and some choice dialogue, Speed did alright for itself in 1994 when up against a smorgasbord of award winners.

It took a tasty £118 million in the Box Office, and spawned a sequel (hot take; I prefer Speed 2: Cruise Control – you know, the one starring Jango Fett and the Green Goblin on a romantic cruise) – and as a film, it’s one that at least everyone has, or knows someone that has seen it.

All in all, a great, memorable 90’s action romp.

Come back again as we enter the second half of our Year Long 90s Movie Challenge – we’re not going to slow down just yet. In fact, we must go faster (must go faster) as our lovely pal CJ Dee takes us back to 1996 to lead the 4th of July festivities (despite being from Down Under) as she celebrates Independence Day!

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