Although it hits any number of gaping credibility potholes on its careening journey around Los Angeles, Speed still manages to deliver the goods as a no-stop actioner that scarcely pauses to take a breath.
Story by debuting screenwriter Graham Yost actually offers three disaster pictures rolled into one: 23-minute curtain raiser, which resembles a Die Hard offshoot, features passengers in a highrise elevator being terrorized; 67-minute main action is set on board a bus that’s rigged to blow up if it slows to under 50 miles-per-hour; and 25-minute climax features the film debut of LA’s new, still-under-construction subway. Whatever the means of transportation, Yost has written a stuntman’s delight.
Pic opens with an obviously demented Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) imperiling a long-drop elevator with a powerful charge of dynamite. Demanding a large bundle of cash if the passengers are to be spared, the baddie is done in by the fearless aerialist maneuvers of LAPD SWAT daredevil Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and his partner Harry (Jeff Daniels). However, Payne is not dead. He soon announces to his nemesis, Jack, that he’s wired a Santa Monica bus so that, once it hits 50 on the freeway, it will blow sky high if its speed descends below that level.
Film’s hallmark stunt – which will have audiences everywhere oohing and aahing – has the huge bus building up a big head of steam so that it can bridge a 50-foot gap in a freeway overpass.
First-time helmer Jan De Bont, the ace lenser of most of Paul Verhoeven’s films as well as Die Hard and numerous other large-scale pix, handles the action with great nimbleness and dexterity. Reeves is surprisingly commanding in the sort of role he’s never tackled before.
1994: Best Sound, Sound Effects Editing.
Nomination: Best Film Editing