Speed 2 (United States, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

If there was ever an action movie that didn't warrant a sequel, it's Speed. However, the film grossed enough money to be numbered among the big summer hits of 1994, and the unfortunate result is this film, which reunites director Jan de Bont with leading lady Sandra Bullock, while leaving Keanu Reeves somewhere safe and dry, "working on his music" with his band, Dogstar. Considering the dubious quality of the final product, this may be the wisest decision of the young actor's career. Speed 2 can be numbered among the worst second chapters ever made.

The original Speed was an entertaining jolt of pure adrenaline that took everyone by surprise. De Bont was an instant success and Bullock became a hot commodity. It was almost inevitable that any sequel, no matter how thrilling, would be a letdown. What no one anticipated was how sharply the downturn would be. Not only is Speed 2 missing the first movie's main character, but the excitement seems to have departed with him.

This time around, Keanu Reeves' Jack Traven has been replaced by Jason Patric's Alex Shaw. For the most part, they're the same person (it shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that Alex was originally written as Jack), and their function is identical. The highest paid member of the cast, Sandra Bullock, is back as Annie. Now, having broken up with Jack, she's in the midst of a long- term relationship with Alex. Things are a little rocky between them, so Alex comes up with a solution: a romantic cruise to the Caribbean on the Seabourn Legend. However, just like John McLane in the Die Hard series, Annie is about to find herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Also aboard the Seabourn Legend is a mentally-unstable computer genius named John Geiger (played without any panache by Willem Dafoe) who intends to take over the ship, crank the engines up to full power, and crash it into something very big.

Speed 2 is a classic example of "sound and fury, signifying nothing." Only, in this case, that "nothing" isn't bolstered by the high-energy tension and tremendous special effects of de Bont's previous excursion, Twister. Speed 2 is lackluster -- the plot methodically drives the film from one action set-piece to another, and the visuals are merely adequate. In fact, the only real thrill offered by Speed 2 comes during the bloated movie's final half-hour (as the ship's collision course becomes apparent). By then, it's too little, too late.

The original Speed was frantically paced and featured a number of individuals that, in spite of their two-dimensionality, were likable and exhibited human characteristics. We felt like we were trapped on the bus with them. This time, the pace and characters are mechanical, and it doesn't seem as if we're actually on board the endangered cruise ship. Instead, we're watching form a detached vantage point, noticing details that we're not supposed to be paying attention to (like what kind of lighting best highlights Bullock's features) or waiting in vain for someone to break into a chorus of "The Love Boat."

Jason Patric has one mode: serious. The actor, who is best suited to introspective, brooding roles (as in The Journey of August King), treats this ridiculous screenplay like it's War and Peace. There's no sense of fun or goofiness. I never thought I would admit to missing Reeves, but that's the situation here -- at least he understood the right tone to adopt. Meanwhile, Bullock plays the same part the same way (albeit for a lot more money) -- she looks cute, gets involved in a couple of action scenes, and is taken hostage. But she and Patric never click; their chemistry is glacial.

Since Dennis Hopper's Howard Payne was decapitated at the end of Speed, the sequel needs a new villain. Enter Willem Dafoe, who's usually a good psycho. Not here, though. Geiger has no manic energy, and Dafoe doesn't seem particularly excited to be playing him. Speed 2 is the kind of film that demands a strong opponent, but Geiger isn't it. Meanwhile, there are a few interesting cameos: Tim Conway and Bo Svenson have small parts, and Speed veterans Joe Morton and Glenn Plummer are on hand for a couple of scenes.

Watching Speed 2, I felt embarrassed for everyone involved. Sure, they're all being well- paid, but no one wants a $120 million flop on their resume. And, once the word gets out about how disappointing this movie is, crowds will dwindle. There are enough action alternatives out there to sate the public's summer appetite. Someone should have recognized what an appropriate metaphor the climactic sequence (which features massive destruction) is for the entire film. Speed 2 appears headed for a box office disaster of titanic proportions. Creatively and entertainment-wise, it's already sunk.

Speed 2 (United States, 1997)

Run Time: 2:05
U.S. Release Date: 1997-06-13
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1