Celebrating milestones in movie cinema is a fun experience. We all have favorite movies that are celebrating some form of anniversary this year. For me, I’ve loved revisiting the epic action movies of 20 years ago, from the year that was 1997. Many have been covered, such as ‘Face/Off’, ‘Con Air’ and ‘Air Force One’. And last time we looked at ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’. A movie which has divided audiences since its release. And that reminded me that 1997 was not only a fantastic year for action cinema, but it was also a year when so many movies that deserved appreciation were instead critically and universally savaged. Great movies that did nothing more than try to please their audience. And for the most part, I have always disagreed in the case of many movies that have since become forgotten and cast aside. So for the next few pieces, it might be time to fight in the corner of those horribly underrated action gems of 1997. And there isn’t one more sorely misunderstood and underrated than Jan De Bont’s ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’.
Defending a movie is a fine art. A very fine art. And where anyone should always start is right at the beginning. With a sequel, for example, it’s very easy to judge it compared to the original. To pick out the first movie’s shining moments, while picking apart any problems the sequel may suffer. So how do I defend a movie like ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’? Easy. I go back to the first ‘Speed’. Therin lies the defence. Many critics and movie goers have often spoken with unkind words of the merits ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ has on offer. And in most cases, it always leads back to the original. People say this sequel is stupid, that it’s boring, that it’s unrealistic etc… And that the original movie is free from any of those problems. So let’s look at ‘Speed’ for a moment… Howard Payne is one of action cinema’s best villains. Played by the late great Dennis Hopper, the movie owes the majority of its great scenes to him. And naturally the two heroes, Jack (Keanu Reeves) and Annie (Sandra Bullock) have lots to do. But here’s some questions that always enter my mind while watching the movie… A bomb on an elevator is great, but how did Payne get it on there undetected? And of course, we get to the bus… How did he get THAT bomb on THERE? And why on earth would he have a second bomb rigged to blow off the step of said bus? Also, how did he hack the video feed of the choppers overhead? How was the signal of his video feed hacked? A bunch of news people managed to reverse his feed and shoot back a signal of recorded footage from his feed? How? Why did he handcuff Annie when he had her fitted with a bomb? What happened to Jack’s keys that he used for his own handcuffs early in the movie? Why would Jack speed up a train to derail it and risk the lives of those crew working on the tracks? Not to mention potential victims at the other end? And above all, how in the world does a freeway go unfinished in Los Angeles? There are no crew even working on it as the bus comes, and not a crane in sight? Did they just plan to leave it like that? Even the bus coming down in perfect condition with not a broken window to show for it?
Anyone who says ‘Speed’ is a bad movie (I haven’t found one yet!) is absolutely wrong. It’s a wonderful movie. But in my opinion, its problems far outweigh those of ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’. And with that said, here’s one more issue for me. The story. Aside from the issues I’ve mentioned, here’s a major issue for me… A bus armed with a bomb that arms if the bus goes above 50 miles per hour, and explodes if the speed drops below 50. Why wouldn’t a bus already be doing 50mph in morning traffic? And eventually it would drop when the bus breaks for lights and explode. Long before Jack ever gets to it. But seeing as it’s a movie, we’ll leave that aside, and consider the story’s main factor… A bus doing 50 is heavy traffic is fun, but naturally the police are going to take steps in getting the bus out of that traffic. So surely Payne knows the challenge wouldn’t last for long? In that case, why not just put a bomb on the bus and tell police he’ll detonate it if he doesn’t get his money? Like he did with the elevator? Why the addition of the speed limit? And even more… The fun that can be had with a speeding bus in traffic is something that most movies could never compare with. And yet after a couple of fun jaunts around the streets, we end up watching an hour of a bus drive around an empty freeway and some airport runways? So the thrill of the whole plot dies almost instantly? If Michael Bay had made it, can you imagine what it would have been?
So with those thoughts on ‘Speed’, we come to ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’. And one question fills my mind… What exactly is the problem? We have a dying man, a computer security designer (John Giger, played by the wonderful Willem Dafoe) who is abandoned by his employer, and in his quest to live out his remaining time in luxury and also his thirst for venegance, he hijacks a ship fitted with one of his own security systems. Intent on destroying the ship and setting off with a cargo of diamonds, Giger sets the ship on a full-speed course to collide with an oil tanker in the Caribbean ocean, plunging the ship’s passengers and crew, along with Annie and Alex, into a desperate race to stop the impending disaster and survive their dream vacation. Awesome story, if somewhat similar to the first, with Payne targeting the police after a severe injury leaves him out of work. Then we have Sandra Bullock back as Annie, playing the role exactly the way she played it first time? We have the fantastic Jason Patric taking over leading man role as Annie’s new cop boyfriend Alex. Many have an issue with Patric, where they miss Keanu Reeves’s Jack. Personally I much prefer Alex to Jack, and think Patric has never been better. Keanu plays Jack with such wooden attributes and cheesy dialogue that I’ve always found him grating. And the whole full-blown relationship between Jack and Annie after a couple of hours on the road at the end of ‘Speed’ is ridiculous. They barely even spoke to each other, but suddenly they’re in love and making out in front of 50 strangers? Oh please. At least this time, we get to see Annie is a realistic relationship that started before the movie. And Alex is a great guy. Sweet, kind, sensitive and a kick-ass action hero. He certainly never would spew that “Yeah, the basement!” line from ‘Speed’ when questioned on the safety of innocent citizens in mortal danger. So have we reached the problem? I don’t see it?
As I mentioned earlier, ‘Speed’ practically squanders much of its running time with almost threat and no danger, spending its time on empty ground with very little to fuel our need for excitement. ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ has very different ideas however. There have been some comparisons that a bus traveling around half its speed seems more excitement that a cruise traveling at its full speed, pointing out that a ship moves much slower than a bus. But here’s the interesting thing about speed, it’s all a matter of location. Yes, a boat would be slower than a bus on land, obviously. But the bus is among road traffic, therefore can prove to be a threat. And the same goes for a massive luxury ship at full speed in an ocean filled with innocent bystanders. Speed is only an issue where speeding can exist. That ship proves to be every bit the threat on water that a bus could be on land. And here’s where ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ leaves the first movie far behind… Taking advantage of the story! The first movie wastes much of its time doing very little, wheras the second spends its time ramping up the danger level, throwing more threat and more mayhem at its passengers as the run time pounds on. And when the ship is not smashing through other boats and colliding with tankers, the dastardly Giger is still onboard to inflict even more terror upon the passengers, as he does everything from murder the captain to flooding the ship. And as he’s hunted by Alex, he constantly makes his presence known, in several attempts to kill the well-meaning cop and his almost-fiance Annie. The whole movie is one massive adventure that constantly tries to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat, and that’s exactly the reason I love it. It lives up to its title and never slows down, only quickening pace to its finale.
Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper is a triple-star bill that any movie would be happy to have. And throw in a terrific supporting cast including Joe Morton, Alan Ruck and Jeff Daniels, you’ve got a heck of a cast. But looking at the cast of its big follow up, we still have Sandra and Joe, and now we get Jason Patric on top form. There’s also once again a terrific support cast, including Temuera Morrison and Glenn Plummer (Who also appeared in the first movie). Even for action movie fans we have the fantastic Temuera Morrison of ‘Star Wars’ fame and star of several awesome action classics (We’ll see him in DC and James Wan’s ‘Aquaman’ soon also) and we also have Lois Chiles, best known for Sir. Roger Moore’s wonderful James Bond movie ‘Moonraker’. The support cast of this movie is one of the finest. Tapping into the classic disaster movies of the 1970’s, Jan De Bont has a stellar cast of characters for his big budget sequel. And they do a brilliant job of fleshing out the movie’s several major action scenes.
And speaking of action, if ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ could ever create doubt in people’s minds over its quality, surely no one can have a problem with the spectacular action sequences. With the stunning opening motorbike chase, as Annie explains how her new boyfriend is ‘different’ from Jack, the movie sets out its plan to deliver top-class thrills with a beautiful musical beat from the incredible Mark Mancina (Who composed the original ‘Speed’ score’, and also ‘Bad Boys’, ‘Twister’, ‘Money Train’ and ‘Con Air’. And even worked with Hans Zimmer on ‘The Lion King’). This score would go on to heavily influence Hans Zimmer on the ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ movies, even if he’s never admitted it. The action scenes are some of the most joyful I’ve ever seen in a movie. The lifeboat rescue is stunning, the desperate race to stop an oil tanker collision is the stuff of dreams, and the Caribbean on-land destruction is insanely fun. Not to mention the final confrontation with Willem Dafoe’s vicious and flamboyant Giger. The action is thunderous and ceases to stop right through the second half of the movie, barely giving anyone the chance to take a breath. And this is exactly the reason I love ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ as much as I do. The feeling I get from that oil tanker sequence, with Mancina’s perfect seafaring blockbuster score, is what I always want from my movie experience. Even the ship itself, the Seabourn Legend, is absolutely beautiful, it looks spectacular onscreen. And Jan De Bont’s style of filmmaking remains one of the best in action cinema. There’s no bells and whistles in his work, no attempt to be fancy or over-complicated. He just points and shoots, using whatever he needs to get the perfect shot, without getting too fancy. It’s a shame he doesn’t work more in Hollywood. And as I mentioned earlier, Jason Patric is just fantastic. I buy into him as a hero, because he comes across as one. His scenes with Drew, the deaf girl, are so sweet, and his rescue of her is a terrific highlight. I’ve a lot of love for Patric, and he couldn’t have been better here. Willem Dafoe is just perfect in everything. He’s a ball of pure crazy. From his awesome mad eyes to that iconic cackle, he’s just an absolute treasure. And insane as he is here, he up the crazy stakes even more as Green Goblin in ‘Spider-man’, a performance with much inspiration taken from this (Crazy man fired by his company exacts revenge against his employers and murders many innocent people for money and power!). And last but certainly not least is Sandra Bullock back as Annie, but more wild and fun than before. She’s awesome in this movie, even if she’ll never agree. ‘Speed’ has plenty of fun action, but where it then fades off into a tense drama with an occasional thrill, ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ relishes its story and constantly ramps up the action to almost total insanity, refusing to ever slow down, staying true to its title. That’s why I’m a major fan of this movie, and why I’ve always considered it the most underrated movie ever made. I love the first movie, but the second has always held a special place in my movie-loving heart, and I’ll continue to defend its honor.
One final note… As I’ve long defended this movie, I’ve constantly found opposition from so many movie fans who find it hard to believe I love it. But if I may throw in a quote from the late Roger Ebert’s 3/4 star review, the harshest and perhaps best known film critic, to end this piece, it speaks volumes for ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’… “Movies like this embrace goofiness with an almost sensual pleasure. And so, on a warm summer evening, do I.”. Well said, Mr. Ebert.