Hello and welcome to the first match-up of So You Think You Can Review?. I promise the rest of these won’t be so wordy, but I felt the need to do a bit of an introduction here. If this is your first time hearing of this tournament, please read this
. Done? Good. All I’d like to add is that all contestants were randomly assigned spots on the list, and each match-up was assigned a movie at random (only checking to make sure they hadn’t already reviewed the film). I made it as fair as possible. And to help with the anonymity, each contestant has chosen their own nickname that they will be known as throughout the tournament. Their true identities will be revealed at the end.
Here’s how it’ll work: You read both reviews and, at the end of the post, vote for which review you liked better. Simple, no? For now, all “battles” will be posted every other day to give everyone time to read and vote. So while this one is put up today–Wednesday–the next one will be put up Friday. And you have until then to get your vote in. The winner moves on to the next round. So without further ado… here’s the current (starting) lineup (click on it to make it bigger)!
All that being said, let’s get to our first battle! We start off this tournament with a classic 90s action flick. The one, the only… Speed, starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and Dennis Hopper.
By Rick von Sloneker
A good action movie needs one truly standout white-knuckle moment. A great one needs a few. Jan de Bont’s Speed is a rare beast in that it’s composed almost exclusively of white-knuckle sequences. The only break in the action comes if and when you press the pause button. That makes watching Speed quite an exhausting exercise, actually, but confident direction, a no-frills screenplay, and a few surprisingly expert performances make it a damn worthwhile one.
Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) is as mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore. Why? That’s for later. What we know when the film begins is that he’s dead-set with blowing up an express elevator full of passengers at an enormous Los Angeles skyscraper if he doesn’t get paid $3 million. Thankfully, Officer Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and Detective Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels) are on the scene. Harry’s quick thinking and Jack’s indomitable courage make them a pretty killer duo, and together, they’re able to rescue every hostage and escape Howard’s trap with just a bullet wound in Harry’s leg for their troubles.
They’re awarded medals for valor, but Jack gets a nasty surprise when he witnesses a city bus blow up and finds out it was Howard’s doing. The surprise gets worse when he learns this guy is waiting to blow up another. The catch: He wants Jack aboard it. So he gives Jack the bus number, its location, and a quick pop quiz. What happens when the bus goes 50 miles per hour? The bomb is armed. What happens if it drops below 50? It blows up.
It’s high-concept filmmaking at its best and smartest—if you don’t allow the bus to slow down, you don’t have to let the film’s pace slow down. De Bont and screenwriter Graham Yost do occasionally paint themselves into a corner with the need to one-up themselves every time Jack gets himself, the bus, and its passengers into a predicament, but by that time, you’re so on-board that it doesn’t matter much. “Go ahead, guys. Jump that 12-ton bus off a broken piece of freeway. What else have you got?”
To that point, though, the film’s first segment—stopping the elevator from crashing—is its best. Part of it is that we don’t know these people yet so we don’t really know whether they are essential or expendable to the film as a whole. I’ll give a great deal of credit, as well, to Mark Mancina’s frantically paced score and Andrzej Bartkowiak’s steady camerawork (The first moment we lay eyes on Harry and Jack is during a fantastic 360° tracking shot.) It all comes back to de Bont, however. He built up an extensive resume as an action cinematographer (on films like Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October). It’s surprising, in fact, that Speed is his first directorial effort, but he’s in control of his craft in a way some other directors could only dream of, and that’s never more evident than during Speed‘s opening 25 minutes.
Performance-wise, one might not expect much out of Speed; It is, after all, a Keanu Reeves vehicle. But Yost’s screenplay smartly ask its leading man for very little. The heavy lifting, instead, belongs to a legend. Dennis Hopper’s Howard Payne is a badder man than Leroy Brown, and the actor thankfully doesn’t hold back an ounce. Hopper’s Payne is a guy we believe could be capable of anything—ANYTHING. That he’s content blowing up a bus should come as a relief to these people. That he’s as smart, capable, and determined as he is, however, shouldn’t.
Jeff Daniels plays an important part in the film’s opening third before sliding into the background while Keanu handles the bus bomb. It’s a shame, too, because he shows signs of brilliance (note Harry’s conversation with Jack at the bar after receiving their medals). There’s another essential character in the mix. Speed introduced the world to none other than Sandra Bullock. In it, she plays Annie, one of the hostage’s on the bus who Jack dispatches to pilot them to safety after the proper driver gets shot. Frankly, she’s a little forgettable, despite what history tells us. Annie is a tough-talking tomboy, a role she’s perfect over the years and ultimately win an Oscar for (The difference between Annie and Leigh Anne Tuohy? Money.)
Speed is refreshing today because there just aren’t many smart, pure blockbusters like it. Most of the special effects are practical (rather than CGI-reliant), and for the most part, the film plays by its own rules. It’s the kind of movie made for cable—mostly because it’s disposable, eye-catching, and star-laden—but don’t let that stop you from discovering (or rediscovering) one of the 1990s’ very best action films.
Errant memories of Speed are fickle, 90s America’s sweet heart Sandra Bullock drives a bus for some reason, Keanu’s stoic presence is juxtaposed by the explosions in the background, pulsing soundtrack… Dennis Hopper?
The question with movies that have been out for a million years is: does it hold up? is it worth streaming on Netflix on a hot summer night? The answers are yes, and you can’t. Speed is not available on Netflix, or Hulu, or Cracked, so without dusting your VHS machine, and heading to the Salvation Army’s 25-cent video pile, chances are you’ll have to spend real money for this movie, you can purchase a stream on Amazon for $4. And it goes up from there when it comes to physical media. So what do you get for your $4?
You get the story of crazy Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), a bomber that takes months to rig a bomb on an elevator, a relatively simple terrorist plot, just to be frustrated in spectacular fashion by Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels using the most feeble and malleable construction crane ever created; when discovered, Payne narrowly escapes using misdirection (hollywood-speak for yelling “look over there!” while running in the opposite direction) with a bomb.
Keanu and Jeff Daniels get medals, and Payne seethes, or cackles, you can’t tell with these movies.
Within days, he concocts and executes a ridiculously complex vengeance plot worthy of the vilest Bond villain. Payne straps bombs to a bus, knowing that Keanu would be close, calls him on a nearby public phone and gets him to race to a random bus, which once reaching 50 miles per hour cannot slow down or it’ll explode, and the people in the bus cannot be thrown off the bus or otherwise rescued or it’ll explode. And only Keanu can save it!
Keanu charges through the streets of LA, totaling dozens of cars, quite possible murdering all of their drivers and passengers, jumps on the bus (which was already above 50 MPH). Sandra Bullock takes the driver’s seat once the original driver is shot (and deemed not flirty enough for Keanu), and the bus takes hard turns, leaps through bridges, and speeds along in airport terminals. Keanu dives under the bus, steadies himself onto the searing undercarriage with his bare hands, and punctures through a diesel tank with a pocket knife, cluing the audience into the impossible things he will later do on The Matrix. Things end in an impossible, yet inevitable enough way, involving hard to understand tech wiz-bangery.
Friends are killed, bad guy loses, girl has spunk, guy gets girl.
The best that can be asked of an 18 year old action thriller is to keep your attention for an hour and a half while keeping the dated references to a minimum, this film achieves that. Competing with my phone, notepad, and bladder, it managed to play unpaused for the entire length, demanding my attention, and delivering well paced thrills within the comfortable confines of a predictable plot. Bullock and Keanu have an interesting chemistry, effective and as synthetic as the soundtrack. The explosions are very real, and Dennis Hopper is on a level above the film itself; delivering tired one liners with cackling gusto, often to himself.
I recommend watching this movie on a drunken Saturday night, following it with the unexpected sequel The Lake House, on a Sunday morning.
I am Molstad.
Tags: Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob