Speed ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

We slowly, omniously creep our way down a sleekly modern elevator shaft, to the sounds of an equally foreboding musical score, before coming to a complete stop when the title of the film flashes onscreen... and then quickly resuming our seemingly endless downward path, at a much faster rate this time, as the music takes on a far more exciting, energetic tempo, setting not only the stage for the opening scene of Jan de Bont's Speed, but also the style and pacing of the upcoming film as a whole; just like the camera (and soon an elevator, then a bus, then a train...), this film is almost always accelerating non-stop, a new stunt, story development, or crisis always coming immediately after the previous one, an approach that, on paper, sounds like it should be rather tedious and tiresome to experience for 2 full hours, but in de Bont's sure, skilled filmmaking hands, results in Speed being one of the better Action movies of the 90's, and just one of the best (possibly the best, to be honest) "non-stop action" Action movie in cinematic history.

The film's now-legendary (and admittedly ludicrous) high-concept story is fueled a mad bomber (a gleefully scenery-chewing Dennis Hopper) holding an elevator full of innocent people hostage with a remote-triggered bomb, and, once that scheme's run its course, then holding a bus full of innocent people hostage with a bomb that automatically goes off if the vehicle dips below 50 MPH (aka the part of the film everyone remembers first), and, once that scheme's run its course, hijacking a subway train in an attempt to escape with his ill-gotten ransom money (the film might as well have been marketed as a sequel to Planes, Trains, And Automobiles, and called Elevators, Buses, And Subways). Like I said before, the plot of Speed is completely ludicrous, not just in the implausibility of the bomber's individual schemes, not just in the sheer amount of them that he pulls off in just a few days, but in the way that every one of them has a fallback plan once they've inevitably been foiled, as well as in the almost-Nostradamus level of foresight he plans them with, a craftiness that would make Simon Gruber himself green with mad-genius envy.

But, like I (also) said before, it's the execution of Speed's patently ridiculous concepts that make it a great Action film, and director Jan de Bont sure executed the hell out of them here; taking the Action movie skill that rubbed off on him while serving as a cinematographer for Die Hard (although this is far from just another Die Hard-on-a-_____ wannabes), de Bont always keeps Speed accelerating, leaping from imperiled vehicle to imperiled vehicle, with each little crisis leading inevitably to the next in the one of the most exhilarating cinematic domino effects you'll ever have the pleasure of witnessing, as elevator brakes explode only for it to dangle from a tenously jerry-rigged, continously slipping construction cable, out of control trains crash through end-of-line stops, and buses smash through gridlocked LA traffic (and you thought rush hour was bad enough as it is), nearly tip over while executing hairpin turns at top speed, and miraculously soar like a metallic angel over huge gaps in unfinished freeways, all while staying above the almighty 50 miles an hour.

The film almost never, ever slows down for a breath, and even the parts where the characters seem momentarily safe still take place onboard a speeding bus with a bomb on it just waiting to go off at the next impromptu deceleration, which keeps tensions high even during moments that merely consist of straight dialogue. Of course, even with all this physical excitment to be had, it's still nice that the film manages to make us care about the characters caught up in the middle of it, without ever having to slow the film's breatheless pacing at all for any unnecessarily drawn-out scenes of character development. We get essentially zero backstory on Keanu Reeves' hotshot, loose cannon cop Jack Traven here, but we don't need to, as we get to know his personality merely though witnessing his fearless actions, which is all we need to know and, despite the inherently goofy, "surfer bra" woodenness that Keanu still held at this point in his career (and wouldn't shake off for some time to come), this shortcoming still manages to manifest itself in a sort of everyman-ness that makes him easier to relate to even as he pulls impossible feats of physicality, a relatibility that extends to Sanda Bullock's star-making turn as Annie, a plucky, unassuming gal-next-door who, after the driver of the bus is incapacitated due to a tragic misunderstanding, finds herself forced into taking the wheel and assuming responsibility for the lives of everyone aboard, and all of this after having her driver's license revoked for speeding, to boot.

As the film and the LA roads wind on, we find ourselves rooting for Jack & Annie as fairly normal individuals who find themselves thrust in the middle of an absurd, absolutely terrifying situation, and when the trail-by-fire relationship springs naturally, spontaneously between them without the film ever belaboring that point, we instantly accept it after we've seen everything they've survived together, as the film builds its characters up in the middle of all the action, and not outside. Of course, that's just a bonus on top of one of the film's main draw, which is its combination of a non-stop pace and intense, shockingly authentic-looking stuntwork, but it's a welcome addition, nonetheless. All in all, despite some issues with some occasionally corny Action movie one-liners, some hoaky acting or overly broad supporting characters, Speed is still the best car chase LA saw in '94 (besides OJ's white Bronco chase, of course) a great trip on the bus that couldn't slow down, and a cinematic thrill ride you need to hop onboard, ASAP; buckle up!

Final Score: 8.5