One of the great 'concept' movies. By concept I mean a film that can be summed up in one line but works all the better because of it. For instance, 'Die Hard' is ' a cop stuck in a skyscraper with terrorists'. 'Alien' is 'big nasty monster chomps its way through a ships crew'. And 'Speed' is one of these movies.The concept being a bomb is strapped to a bus which will be armed when it goes over 50 miles per hour and then will detonate if it falls below that. Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves)a SWAT member is on the bus who along with makeshift bus driver Annie Potts (Sandra Bullock), is trying to keep the bus on the road and running. Meanwhile his partner Harry (Jeff Bridges) is trying to track down the bomber responsible Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper).
As well as being a great concept 'Speed' is notable for several reasons. It really set off the careers of Reeves and Bullock and it's one of the few action films together with 'Die Hard' from the last 20 years that still stands the test of time.
Essentially 'Speed' is three long set-pieces strung together. First there's the bomb in the elevator shaft, then the bus and finally the bomb on the train.
Despite this, it still works brilliantly. The elevator shaft is an ominous forewarning of events still to come, while the bus sequence still ranks as one of the great strung out action sequences that whitens the knuckles. It's a shame then that the climax on the train doesn't have the same effect as the previous two sequences and feels tacked on.
It is the middle section that really crackles with tension however, as the bus races through the city and across the freeway and it feels like it could be a disaster movie in the style of 'The Poseidon Adventure' or 'The Towering Inferno' with desperate passengers making suicidal bids for escape or doomed rescue missions. Da Bonts direction is crucial here and surprisingly for such a hack, he has a tense, sweaty hold on the action. He also fills the film with little moments that still resonate today. The moment with the pram. The look on Harry's face as he realises he's strayed into Payne's lair. And of course the bus jump. Looking back, the memory has possibly cheated with it not seeming nearly as impressive as it was (filmed in close-up with no real sense of the gap in the freeway it's had to jump)but it still get's the adrenaline pumping.
The cast throw themselves in with energy and it's refreshing to see a Bullock film before she became so damn irritating and to see Reeves' action hero roots. Bridges is good support as ever, but Hopper is an acquired taste. He's so over the top he's coming back down again as he proceeds to chew his way through every bit of a scenery around him. "I'm coming to get you Jack! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!"
'Speed' is a film that still lasts and looks to be the genuine article when we talk about great action films. It's tense, exciting, pacy and funny.Sequel? What sequel?