Type to search

May Movie Challenge

May 14: Speed | A Movie Featuring Public Transportation

Maximilian Rivera May 14, 2017


By Max Rivera | @MaxRiveraFilm

In the category of A Movie Featuring Public Transportation, Max has chosen Speed (1994), directed by Jan de Bont, written by Graham Yost, and starring Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, and Jeff Daniels.


​Every now and then there are movie premises that just kind of write themselves. Take Speed for example. Speed is a film about a young, hot shot police officer that must prevent a bomb exploding aboard a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph.

We’ve watched quite a few stinkers in our time on the podcast. Some things we’ve learned are pacing, tension, threat, and rising action can make or break a movie. With lackluster writing, you’ll quickly realize that the threat is not constant enough. If you make your conflict high enough, and the story just comes together. At least, that’s the case with Speed.

Starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, and Jeff Daniels, this film doesn’t break the mold for action thrillers — but what it does is work within that very mold to create a high-octane thrill ride that will have you white-knuckled and screaming at the TV.

We meet our heroic cops as they diffuse a hostage situation involving an elevator. The man behind the attack fakes his death, and then plays a cat and mouse game with Jack (Reeves). This escalates into a sick game that drives Jack to board a bus

One of the reasons why is because the film knows how to build suspense, and it does so in the classic way that Hitchcock championed: the audience will know what is coming before the characters do. If there’s a bomb, we as the viewer see the behind the scenes action or a close-up of the device before Jack ever comes across it. What this does is use the time and pacing of the action to build our own fear.

​The premise is so simple, too, yet that is where it becomes genius. Action films are big these days — most dealing with international crime, large scale destruction, and overly slick sequences. There are a lot of leaps and bounds in modern action films, where Speed just takes us through a logical progression with likable and compelling characters (okay, some of these are archetypes but they’re fun archetypes).

Graham Yost wrote Speed after deciding that Jon Voight’s Runaway Train was missing something — a bomb, that is. So he wrote his version of what should happen in such a scenario. Later on during shooting, the dialogue would get a rewrite from Joss Whedon, which explains why these characters are just so damn fun to watch.

It’s a testament to the film that almost a quarter of a century later, everything still works. While technology has admittedly changed, the use of it within the film is even smart — early 90s cell phones and video technology are present, as well as some digital capabilities within the police station. Best of all, the pacing works, the twists and turns are thrilling, and the situational anxiety hits you like a ton of bricks.

Best of all, this film made Sandra Bullock a household name. While she had already been in Demolition Man, Speed was her breakout role that made her the powerhouse leading lady she would grow to become. Her character Annie is not just charming and plucky, but she keeps a cool head throughout every incident. There’s some nineties action romance thrown in between her and Reeves, and they’re both just so cute together that it works just fine.

​While I’m not always a fan of movies where the villain is one step ahead, I feel Speed handled it better than most. The bomber kept in contact with Jack throughout the entire narrative, but he never did the cliche moves we see now — like turning himself in as part of his plan. There was a fake death in the first act, but we the audience knew it was fake.

Our villain was played by Dennis Hopper, who had a playfully evil repertoire with the police throughout the story. There are a few tropes involved with his story, but the action moves so fast that you don’t even mind.

I don’t really have much as far as negatives for this movie. It was damn fun, and kept me glued to my seat the whole time. If you enjoy action films like Die Hard, you’ll have a blast watching Speed. If you like Unstoppable, you’ll love Speed.

Now we should probably mention the universally panned sequel at this point. Speed 2: Cruise Control tried to recreate the magic of a speeding highway by moving the action… to a boat. Reeves also didn’t return, so he was replaced with Jason Patric playing a new character. I give them points for a great title, but I watched a portion of that film back in the day on HBO. It wasn’t very good.

If you’re looking for a fun action ride, check out Speed.

Grade: A+

Want to keep up with the rest of our scavenger hunt? Check out the rest of our May Movie Challenge here.

Max is a marketing copywriter by day, filmmaker and screenwriter by night. He resides in Charlotte, NC, and loves his dogs, watching movies, building LEGO sets, and eating food. Lots of food.You can find Max at his personal website and twitter.