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|Written by April Yorke|
|Monday, 29 August 2011 00:00|
A few months ago, I got sick. I should preface this by saying that I almost never get sick. Allergies and colds I get, but sick? I don't play that way. Still, it happened. Throughout the day, I channel surfed listlessly. I gazed at my DVDs, willing one of them to fall off the shelf and land in the player in a fit of zany comedy physics. Finally around 8 pm, AMC came to my rescue. "Speed will revive me," I said aloud to the on-screen guide.
And you know what? It did.
Speed does not have the greatest of reputations. In fact, I don't know that it has any reputation beyond 1) helping launch Sandra Bullock's career as America's most pratfall-ready sweetheart and 2) being a movie that Keanu Reeves was in before he was an internet meme. So what is it about Speed that has AMC and Action! practically showing it on a loop? Five things:
1. Jack Traven is a sort of a subversive action hero.
And by that I don't mean that he's geek chic and wandering around the police station in a pair of hipster glasses and a beard. It's just that the intervening 17 years have taught us to expect action heroes that fit a certain mould: muscled, terse, and tragic. Jack Traven is none of those things. Don't get me wrong: he looks good. But he's not nearly exploding out of his too-tight clothes or dependent on a one-liner to carry him through. Best of all, however, is the 100% lack of tragic backstory. Why is Jack on the bomb squad? Heck, why is he even a cop? No idea. We never find out, and that's just fine since we don't need to know. The most insight we get into his character (beyond his actions, of course) is an early exchange indicating that Jack is single and maybe would enjoy not being single anymore. Hurrah for uncomplicated heroes.
2. Almost half the movie takes place off the bus.
Maybe you remember the ill-fated express elevator from the beginning or the climactic subway ride at the end, but do you remember both? The movie manages to get the action rolling immediately without dropping us into a story and pulling back three days (surely the most annoying film/television conceit of the last decade), AND it weaves in an organic, current, non-exposition requiring reason for Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper, RIP) to have a beef with Jack. It's almost like someone knew what they were doing.
3. Joss Whedon did an un-credited re-write.
No offense to credited screenwriter Graham Yost (we'll always have Justified), but it's easy to hear Whedon in this exchange:
Ortiz: You're not too bright, man, but ya got some big, round, hairy cajones.
According to Beth Grant (you know, the one who gets herself blown up in case we doubted the gravity of the situation), Whedon was the one who came in and cut out all the backstories and just got people on the bus. So thank you, Joss.
4. Joe Morton gets to live.
Have you seen this man? In a movie or on TV show? Did he die? Well, fine, did he die eventually? Of course he did. That's what Joe Morton brings to screen. He's a fine actor, and he brings a lot of other things, too, but the thing people really remember him for is dying all over the place. This time out, he gets to live, and he doesn't even have to be a curmudgeonly old captain constantly yelling at his maverick about playing by the rules. If anything, Mac seems downright proud of Jack's imagination and tenacity. Aw.
5. Nobody walks away from an explosion.
Cool guys always walk away from explosions, do they? Speed begs to differ. Speed posits that not only do cool guys not walk away from explosions, they attempt to stop them. Barring that, they get blown away, knocked unconscious, or seek cover. Even cool guys know hanging around an explosion isn't exactly fun times.
If anything, Speed, despite its age and novelty car phone, is the antidote to the modern action movie. There's no redemptive arc for the bad boy billionaire, no important lessons to be learned, no hyper-kinetic/impossible to follow fight sequences. There are bombs, and Jack Travens tries to stop them from exploding. Barring that, he tries to stop people from getting dead. That's the entire movie. So next time you find yourself feeling under the weather (or just plain bored), call up Speed and envelope yourself in its perfect 90s action movie cocoon.
Just don't get Speed 2: Cruise Control. Jason Patric, you, sir, are no Keanu.