Jan De Bont’s 1994 thriller, Speed, is one of the greatest examples of the 90’s actioner that exists despite not featuring Nicolas Cage and it remains a masterclass of how you go about making a truly beloved movie that held the immense chemistry of it’s two stars in the same high regard as it’s many and sizable bangs and crashes. However, it’s sequel the widely detested Speed 2: Cruise Control, is about as loved as a skid mark in a pair of speedos – so what the hell went wrong?
A returning director and one half of the original star combo resulted in producing a film that spectacularly misfired on virtually every single level you can judge a movie on that still remains as one of the prime examples of franchise killing that I have ever witnessed.
All aboard then, for one of Hollywood’s most notorious car crashes that ran multiple careers aground and even nearly killed one of it’s leads.
Annie, the plucky heroine whom we last saw steering a runaway bus through the LA streets, has ditched her previous, action-man beau, Jack Traven in favour of the calm, down to earth, dependable Alex Shaw – but unknown to her, Alex, isn’t actually the mellow guy she thinks he is. No, he’s actually a daredevil SWAT guy who accidently reveals himself when his motorcycle chase comes to an abrupt stop in front of Annie’s latest disastrous driving lesson.
As a way to reconnect and start afresh, Alex surprises Annie with a Caribbean cruise, but unfortunately the surprises also include John Geiger, a disgruntled computer programmer who is succumbing to copper poisoning and who treats his ailment by sharing his bath time with a bunch of leeches (what, no Radox?) and reprogrammes the ship on a collision course with an oil tanker.
While the majority of the passengers hop onto lifeboats and abandon ship, Alex smells a rat and both him, Annie, some of the crew and some of the most annoying bystanders on God’s green earth manage to stay on board to figure out what is actually going on.
As Geiger attempts to loot his way into an early retirement while constantly bugging his eyes out at every given opportunity, Alex ricochets all over the ship like a blue arsed fly with a squawking Annie in tow while trying to thwart these nefarious plans by continuously putting himself in lethal peril.
But even if he manages to alter the ship’s course away from the floating bomb it’s been pointed at, how is he going to avoid the entire freaking Caribbean island that’s behind it – and further more, save an Annie who’s inconveniently become Geiger’s loudly complaining hostage?
Literally every bit of the considerable charm deployed by the original Speed is nowhere to be seen in this lamentable sequel and it’s easy to lay the blame at Keanu Reeves’ feet for his uncanny ability to pick up the loser scent that’s literally all over the script from beginning to end, but that would be technically unfair. After all, there’s so much more wrong with this film beyond just the no-show of it’s original lead and when you start to break it down, Speed 2 ends up being almost a cautionary tale about the dangers of big budget filmmaking much in the same style as Batman & Robin (released in the same fucking year, God help us).
To start, for a movie called Speed, it’s incredibly fucking slow, with the beautiful simplicity of the first film’s bomb-on-a-bus premise sinking like a stone the very instant it takes to water. You see, cruise ships don’t move particularly fast compared to a speed car or an out of control train and action films require something of a relatable threat to gather up some tension; so when someone states in a panic stricken voice that they have hours until impact, it’s kind tough to give a much of a shit until things get a bit more serious. However, when things actually do, the steps used to save the day don’t turn out to be particularly exciting, with disaster being temporarily averted by having Jason Patric frantically spinning a wheel underwater while he holds his breath.
Elsewhere, the movie shamelessly pads its runtime some hideously bland side plots for characters who barely register while we’re mercilessly subjected to wall to wall live performances from UB40, who, for some reason, are the live act the first night out (I hope the passengers like Red Red Wine, because would’ve been hearing it a lot if disaster hadn’t had struck…).
So besides a uncomfortably creepy side plot that involves a deaf 14 year old girl lusting after Alex and a bunch of overweight people having to strip to their underwear in order to plug up smokey vents, everyone else stubbonly chooses to scream their lines at each other while they end up buffeted with rain, sparks or glass at any given moment. However, as irritating as everyone is in this movie, none of them end up being as flat out obnoxious as Sandra Bullock, which is something of a major shock because her perky, plucky, everygirl native was a major reason the first film worked so majestically. Annie spends quite literally the entire movie whining at everyone and everything under the mistaken belief that it’ll be really funny, but all she does is follow Alex around, help out a bit while being really flustered and then get kidnapped while at no point having any chemistry with anyone. I’ll leave off Bullock now, because she literally nearly died making the movie due to a misfired stunt that nearly drowned her and move on the charisma free zone of Jason Patric who, despite spending 75% of the movie being soaking wet while doing a ton of his own stunts, simply can’t hope to match the buzz-cutted charm of dear old Keanu. On the other hand, there’s Willem Dafoe’s performance who obviously wanted to keep the ranting spirit of Dennis Hopper’s previous bad guy very much alive by putting in a performance of such eyeball rolling intensity, it makes his future role of the Green Goblin look positively serene in comparison while the other cast members (including Temura Morrison) stare in awe.
Even the action sequences – usually a safe refuge if your film sucks – are blighted by the fact that De Bont seems to have completely forgotten how to pace a movie and are either too muddled, too slow, or – in the case of the massive set piece that sees the ship plow through a sea front town – go on waaaaaaay too long and the result is a strictly excitement free zone that also cheerfully glosses over what an ecological disaster our heroes have caused by causing an oil tanker to explode just off the coast of Saint Martin and drilling a cruise ship through people’s homes and businesses.
Completely omitting the edge of your seat thrills, overwhelming charm and sheer, air punching joy of the first movie and replacing it with Sandra Bullock being a genuine pain for two hours while Jason Patric constantly wears an expression on his face that make him look like a scolded puppy, Speed 2 fails on virtually ever level despite costing an incredible amount to make. Is it no wonder that after this bout of nautical nonsense that the Speed franchise immediately hit the breaks?