Monday, June 7, 2010

Speed


I have a confession to make. I kind of unironically like Keanue Reeves.

Lets set aside for a moment the roles he’s easy to defend in, the likes of My Own Private Idaho, Scanner Darkly and River’s Edge. Lets take a look here at your Constantines, your Lake Houses, your Point Breaks, your Day The Earth Stood Stills. Theres a reason Keanu always gets cast in this high concept shit. Mainly, because he buys it.

Take Constantine, which is for the record one of my favorite guilty pleasures of all time (lower your opinions of me accordingly). There is a scene which finds Keanu sitting in an electric chair, with his feet in a bucket of water and a cat on his lap, patiently waiting to be sent to hell. And he acts like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Presumably because he doesn’t know better. His shall we say, unique cadences, zen outlook, and unflappable demeanor all conspire to make Reeves truly one of a kind. I mean come on how can you not like him a little.

He anchors Speed. Along with Sandra Bullock one of the few women not named Carrie Ann Moss that it can be said Reeves has some genuine chemistry with. Bullock’s appeal has always been not her glamour but her normalacy, which is why she is still a movie star at forty five no matter how many actresses she kisses in public. It’s that ability to keep that Girl Next Door feel even when doing things as patently ridiculous as piloting a multi ton bus over a gorge, that keeps her likable.

Speed serves as the apex of a certain kind of pre CGI blockbuster filmmaking. There’s a purity to Speed that you have to admire it’s a two hour movie that probably has ten minutes in it not devoted to vehicles going fast, shit blowing up, and actors trading pithy bon mots. It’s the Darwinian end result of the action eighties. A movie that has (de)evolved into nothing but a goods delivery mechanism.

And in all fairness Speed does nothing but deliver the goods. Things start off with a fantastic set piece involving an elevator rigged to explode, that would serve as the climax for a lesser film. The plot develops into (white noise) mad bomber (white noise) will explode if it dro- (white noise) -illed his best friend.

Watching anything wreck that much havoc on LA’s nightmarish Freeway system during its Kakaesque rush hour is a guilty pleasure for any Angelino (Let us also take a moment to appriciate the sublime irony of a thriller built around public transporation being set in a city notorious for having the worst public transportation system of any major metropolitan area in the world). Unfortunately the film does little more then nod at the cities multi culturalism. Original director Tarantino might have turned the film into LA’s answer to The Taking Of The Pelham 123. De Bont, just lets everyone have a funny line.

And yet I’ve ended up writing about everything in this movie aside from my reason for revisiting it. Hopper of course, grounds the film. Giving his role a real sense of menace and ruthlessness. Not to mention making the idea that he can outsmart Keanu Reeves seem all too plausible. He gives the role the requisite intensity. But It’s then kind of role that Hopper was all too often saddled with, in the late stage of his career. One that the movie depended on, but gave him little room to do anything but pop his eyes, yell, and get one ker-aizy speech in. Don’t get me wrong, like everything else in the film Hopper is a lot of fun. He’s just not much else.

6 comments:

Emily said...

I can always enjoy some Speed, even though some of the physics kind of irk me (and I almost failed high school AND college physics). Still, it's one of the most enjoyable action films made in the '90s.

Also, I too think Reeves works great in certain material. I quote his great scene in Parenthood once a month and will never ever tire of Bill & Ted's. Yes, he's a little limited as an actor, but I always dug the fact that he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

J.D. said...

Keanu is one of those actors that is good when he works within his limited range. He brings a lot of enthusiasm to a role like POINT BREAK and SPEED. And count me for digging CONSTANTINE as well. I love that opening scene where he does the exorcism with the mirror. Very coool.

Back to SPEED. I would go so far as to say that it is THE best of the DIE HARD wannabes. It is nothing more than a lean mean action machine and delivers the goods. Plus, Keanu and Sandra Bullock have fantastic chemistry in this film which always made me wonder if they were an item off-screen. And despite the daft logic of THE LAKE HOUSE, they demonstrated that they still have great chemistry together.

Anyways, SPEED is an enjoyable big dumb action film filled with cliches (like Jeff Daniels as the doomed partner) but it has a lot of fun with them also.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Emily: Are you saying a two ton bus couldn't hop a fifty foot gorge?

@ JD: Glad to see another Constantine fan. It was getting lonely over here.

Also Jeff Daniels only had a week until retirement NOOO!!!

Like I said, I think Keanu's great strength is that he doesn't talk down to the material. And given some of the material he's given, that's harder then it looks.

J.D. said...

Bryce:

Agreed re: Keanu. His best films play off his stiff or blankness as an actor. This actually worked really well in POINT BREAK where he was supposed to be a square newbie who has jump right into the action.

The Film Connoisseur said...

One of my all time favorite action films, I remember the thrill I got when I watched it for the first time in the theater, it was a great movie going experience. The audience got a jolt out of it! I think it still holds up very well today, and I love it even more because it was all achieved (as you mentioned in your review) without a drop of CGI.

The Film Connoisseur said...

By the way, Im not a Keanu hater. Ive actually loved his work all through out, even as far back as his Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure days!