Hampered by a derivative, cliche-ridden screenplay, Jan De Bont's "Speed 2: Cruise Control," the water-bound sequel to his 1995 smash hit, is a serviceable summer action-thriller that takes too long to deliver its anticipated goods. Sandra Bullock, who toplined "Speed" as the attractive bus driver, and Jason Patric, who replaces Keanu Reeves in the male lead, are more animated here than in previous screen roles, but not enough to give the film the drive it needs to match the excitement level of the original pic. Fox release should have a strong opening, but lukewarm word of mouth and tough competition from the summer's top guns will prevent this popcorn movie from reaching the spectacular success of its predecessor. Combining elements of numerous action-thrillers, most notably the Steven Seagal vehicle "Under Siege," and two films on which helmer De Bont served as cinematographer ("Die Hard" and "The Hunt for Red October"), "Speed 2" suffers from a slender script, a tedious first reel and a routine villain who lacks the entertaining menace that "Speed's" diabolical madman projected.
The opening sequence, which introduces the two romantic leads as they go about their business, is quite promising. Taking her driving test, the vehicularly challenged Annie Porter (Bullock) proves to be a chatty and clumsy driver, exasperating her hapless examiner (Tim Conway). At the same time, boyfriend Alex Shaw (Patric) is on his motorcycle, chasing down a truck loaded with stolen computers; unbeknownst to her, he is a member of an elite SWAT unit.In an effort to establish a link to “Speed,” Annie is presented as a woman whose big problem is her inability to maintain a decent relationship. Still hurt by her breakup with Jack (Reeves), she believes that “relationships based on extreme circumstances never work.” Indeed, it takes some subtle maneuvering on the part of Alex — and a pair of tickets for a Caribbean cruise — to pacify Annie. This reel, in which the lovers bicker and reconcile in the manner of screwball comedy, is rather slow and not well performed; neither thesp is particularly adept at light romantic banter. Yarn picks up some momentum once Annie and Alex get aboard the “world’s most luxurious” cruise liner and secondary characters are thrown into the mix. It’s hard not to notice the “correct” thinking that went into determining the passengers’ demographics. The novelty here may be in assigning large-size Debbie (Colleen Camp) and Harvey (Michael G. Hagerty), a couple who share an extraordinary passion for food, more substantial parts than is the norm. There’s also Drew (Christine Firkins), a hearing-impaired girl with an adolescent crush on Alex. Drew’s dramatic purpose is to be offended by her insensitive dad so that she can run away — and get trapped in an elevator in the midst of the crisis. And the ship’s crew displays multicultural flavor, including Capt. Pollard (Scandinavian Bo Svenson), officer Juliano (New Zealander Temuera Morrison) and navigator Merced (Scottish Brian McCardie). While the central couple and the other vacationers enjoy an evening ball, during which lounge singer Sheri Silver (Tamia) entertains, John Geiger (Willem Dafoe), a mad computer mastermind, orchestrates a nasty takeover. The motivation for his destructive act is explained in a series of hit-and-miss confrontations (and phone conversations) with Annie and Alex. It turns out Geiger is a disgruntled genius, an employee who was laid off because of his terminal illness. Lacking the manipulative structure of “Speed,” which shrewdly interspersed rousing set pieces throughout the story, “Speed 2″ is vastly uneven, trying in its second hour to recoup energy and compensate the audience for all the exposition of the initial reels. Most of the thrilling action scenes occur in the last 40 minutes, including a well-executed evacuation of trapped passengers and a number of chases aboard the cruiser involving courageous Annie and Alex and sociopath Geiger. The lengthy climax, in which a concerted, almost desperate effort is made to flood and slow down the liner so that it won’t crash into another ship, and the sequence in which the ship heads toward St. Martin, wrecking everything in its way (water skiers, sailing boats, offices, restaurants), are smoothly engineered by helmer De Bont and lenser Jack Green. Using a speedboat and a helicopter, the final hunt is fast-paced, offering the kind of jolt audiences will eagerly embrace. Early on, teenage Drew asks Alex if he and Annie are siblings, a question that highlights a further problem of the movie: Bullock and Patric don’t generate much heat in their romantic scenes. And it’s doubtful that any actor would have been credible as the standard-issue villain, but with his eye-rolling, giggling and other mannerisms, Dafoe makes his role even less intriguing than it must have been on the page. Tech credits and special effects are proficient, though not as impressive as those of “Speed.”