Speed (1994): Oscar Winning Action-Adventure, Starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock

Fox’s new action-adventure Speed may be the perfect popcorn summer-season fare. This pulse-accelerating, sometimes breathtaking, offers the viewers a high-adrenaline, nonstop rollercoaster ride.

But watching this mechanical concoction is like visiting one of the amusement-park attractions at Disneyland, except that it lasts longer and you don’t have to stand on line before each attraction. For two hours, “Speed” keeps going at a relentless pace, and then it just stops.

There’s a skeleton of a story, though everything about it is recycled goods, including the hero’s name, Jack Tavern, played by the handsome Keanu Reeves.

The first sequence is actually quite good. Officer Jack and his wisecracking partner (Jeff Daniels) must rescue a group of passengers, trapped in an elevator in a high-rise building. Sounds familiar? Of course, we have all seen it before, in The Towering Inferno, the Die Hard movies, and so on.

The tale’s standard villain is named Howard Payne, a character Dennis Hopper could have played in his sleep. But the movie never bothers to explain who he is, why he planted a bomb, and so on.

Speed offers the kind of visceral experience that discourages and precludes any questions about motivation, characterization, plot, and logic.

Once the first set piece in the elevator is “resolved,” the movie proceeds to the next one. One day, while having a coffee in Venice, California Jack observes a bus explosion. It turns out that Payne has rigged another bus with explosives, which are going blow up if the bus won’t keep its speed at a minimum of 50 miles per hour.

That no bus can maintain such speed in Los Angeles, before getting to the highway, is beside the point, since the movie is not grounded in any recognizable or realistic context. The filmmakers’ assumption is that we lack the capacity–and time–to think once we are entrapped in the movie house.

One of the realities of the new American cinema is that if a young actor wants to become a working performer, let alone a popular, he has to do mindless action movies, on the order of Cliffhanger and Speed.

Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Murphy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis have gone this route, and most recently Ray Liotta in No Escape. Now it’s seems to be the turn of Keanu Reeves, a busy actor whose career so far has been unimpressive.

Yet, considering he has no part to play, Reeves acquits himself with a decent, even appealing performance. At this juncture, he may be more suitable for action flicks than for Shakespeare, judging by his embarrassing turn in Much Ado About Nothing, or the year before in Dracula.
The ever-likeable Sandra Bullock, circling around stardom for several years now, should become a popular actress after “Speed,” in which she is cast as a resourceful passenger who winds up in the driver’s seat of the fatal bus trip.

The big anticipated commercial success of “Speed” should allow its gifted director, cinematographer Jan de Bont, who makes his feature debut, to direct another picture, hopefully one that will use his technical skills in the service of a narrative with real characters and emotions. That said, “Speed” is an entertaining flick on a purely primitive gut level, with some terrific Oscar-winning technical effects. (See below).
Oscar Nominations:

Sound: Gregg Landaker, Steve Maslow, Bob Beemer. And David R.B. MacMillan
Sound Effects Editing: Stephen Hunter Flick
Film Editing: John Wright

Oscar Awards: 2

Sound Effects Editing

Oscar Context:

The Editing Oscar went to Arthur Schmidt for “Forrest Gump,” which won Bost Picture and other Oscars.