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30th Anniversary Rewatch – Speed

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How can Speed be thirty years old when 1975 is only twenty years ago? Such is the vagaries of the perception of time concomitant with old age that has more to do with my family doctor than Doctor Who. If there has to be a film to watch again in order to celebrate an anniversary why not make it a balls out, action fest made by one of those marvellously bonkers Dutch directors.  Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and wrote, “Films like Speed belong to the genre I call Bruised Forearm Movies, because you’re always grabbing the arm of the person sitting next to you”.

Right from the opening credits you are gripped. The three dimensional floating letters are dropping down a lift shaft and the claustrophobia of the setting builds up the tension right from the beginning. When the opening credits finish you’re left in the netherworld that houses the internal workings of most modern skyscrapers. A security guard is doing his rounds and comes across a maintenance chap working on some wiring. Security fellow asks to see a work order and an expertly placed screwdriver makes him lose interest in checking up on the work being done! So we now know who the bad guy is.

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Pop Quiz, Hotshot

He is Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper). We also know that he is ruthless and knows his way around lift wiring. We later find out that he is also an explosives expert. Well, expert enough to only lose a thumb in some sort of incident!  So…a ruthless, explosives expert running freely around an big budget tower block full of people in expensive suits. What was he doing that made it worth ruining a security guard’s day? Well, he was taking control of all of the lifts, playing around with the information being sent back to the control room, and placing bombs on the executive, express lift which was about to boarded by some of those people in expensive suits.

I say bombs because he isn’t just a psychopath who wants to see how many people he can kill, he has a plan. Thirteen people get into a lift and start to travel down. He sets off the bomb he’s placed on the cable which causes the lift to plummet down until the emergency brakes kick in. He then phones in a ransom demand…pay him $3 million within an hour or he’ll set off the charges he’s placed on the emergency brakes. Oh yes, the point behind choosing the executive, express lift is that there aren’t any doors into it on the floors that the hoi polloi have to use. So no levering open the doors on whichever floor they’ve found themselves on.

There’s A Bomb On A Bus 

Then, here comes the cavalry in the form of Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves), Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels), and the rest of their LAPD SWAT team. When they arrive they have only twenty three minutes left before the deadline. Jack and Harry run around and find the lift with the people in suits in it. They manage to get a hook attached from a rooftop crane to act as a safety rope in case the emergency brakes fail…or get failed! All is set to rescue the suits and the people inside them. However, Howard has arranged to to be able to hear what’s going on inside the lift shaft and now knows that a rescue attempt is underway.

Howard blows the emergency brake charges and the lift drops for another couple of floors but the safety line holds…for now. One of the charges that took out the emergency brakes also took out part of the floor and we nearly lose one of the passengers. However, amongst all the inevitable screaming and shouting, Jack and Harry manage to find where the stranded lift is, open up the access panels, and fish out the passengers. And, as is usual, just in time for the improvised safety line to give way and the whole lot goes plummeting into the basement.

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Got this back when I was pregnant, but I’ll be keeping it forever, it’s just so handy. I don’t go to the movie theater that often (even back before quarantine when you actually could…) but I make sure the app and the movie list are all current and updated, cause it’s so handy! It’s great for running late cause you can read their

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summary, obviously awesome for bathroom or snack breaks mid movie, and I also love that it tells you if there’s anything after the credits which is very handy.

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Once The Bus Goes Fifty Miles An Hour, The Bomb Is Armed

Harry and Jack sit back to catch their breath. They wonder why Howard blew the charges three minutes early thus forfeiting his three million dollars. That doesn’t make sense so they start thinking and decide that he must be in the building so he can monitor the situation. The passenger lifts have all been shut down but the service ones? They go and open one on their floor and look down onto the cabin. There is a cough and they know they’ve found their man! They climb down to be met by a volley of shotgun blasts. Eventually Harry, Jack, and Howard are all in the service lift together and it is only a dynamite waistcoat that tips the balance in his favour. 

Well…that, and having Harry gripped around the throat and being used as a human shield. It means that he can just back out and shuffle off to the car park. Jack is probably a good enough shot to be able to hit Howard without harming Harry but the explosive undergarment has a trigger which will fire if Howard loses consciousness and slackens his grip. Earlier Harry and Jack had had the infamous gunman with a hostage at the airport conversation when Jack’s solution is to shoot the hostage, take them out of the equation. Jack is as good as his word and he shoots Harry in the thigh. Howard runs to the car park, Jack chases but there is a huge explosion just before he can reach the door.

If It Drops Below Fifty, It Blows Up 

All this happens within the first twenty five minutes! More importantly, it keeps on like that throughout. There’s a conversation between Jack and Annie (Sandra Bullock) after Jack punches a hole in the fuel tank which sums up the philosophy of the film…

Annie: What is that smell?    Jack: It’s gas.
Annie: We’re leaking gas?     Jack: We are now.
Annie: What, you thought you needed another challenge or something?

For an action film, there is quite a high level of humour thanks, probably, to an uncredited rewrite by Joss Whedon; apparently Reeves felt the original Graham Yost script was too much like Die Hard on a bus and was reluctant to come on board…no pun intended! Others considered for the role of Jack included Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Patrick Swayze, Kevin Costner, Michael Keaton, and Nicolas Cage. Some I can imagine, but others…wow! Just…wow.

What Do You Do? What Do You Do?

The marvellously bonkers Dutch director behind the camera for this film was Jan De Bont. Speed was De Bont’s feature directing debut and I think it’s fair to say that he did a bit of an M Night Shyamalan and peaked with his first film and went downhill afterwards. I mean, Twister was good but he followed that up with Speed 2: Cruise Control. Next came the woeful remake of The Haunting; avoid but check out the 1963 version. His last directorial effort was Lara Croft: The Cradle Of Life back in 2003. 

But Speed also has a legacy in popular culture. I don’t know how well Father Ted is known outside of the UK, but the third episode of the third series was called Speed 3 because the writers (Graham Lineman and Arthur Matthews) wanted to come up with a worse “sequel” than Speed 2: Cruise Control. Pat Mustard, the local milkman, is sacked for sleeping with all the women on his round. Father Dougal takes over and Pat rigs the milk float with a bomb that activates at 4mph and detonates if the speed drops below 4mph! It is well worth a watch if you get the chance. By that I mean both the Father Ted episode and Speed. Check your local cinema for anniversary screenings.

Film Grade: A+

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