DVRemember and 20th Anniversary – Speed 2: Cruise Control Has 30 Good Minutes!

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I probably haven’t seen Speed 2 in 20 years. Why would I? But something about nostalgia makes me curious about even the duds that played a role in my life. In a way it’s fitting. Speed opened right before I went to work at a movie theater in high school and played throughout my first summer there. Speed 2 opened the last summer I ever worked there but probably didn’t last until my final shift in August. Now Starz/Encore has it in advance of its 20th anniversary on June 13.

June of 1997, we knew something was up. The success of Speed warranted a sequel of course, but Keanu Reeves said no and building it around the memorable love interest seemed a stretch. Plus a boat doesn’t go that fast and Under Siege already did Die Hard on a boat.

The fatal error was that Speed was not popular because of its memorable characters. Sure, Reeves and Bullock had good chemistry, but it was the bus that couldn’t slow down. You had to see that. The boat that can’t stop… The Poseidon Adventure was frigging upside down! Don’t cry to me about your right side up boat problems.

Then you’ve still got Die Hard 2 syndrome with Annie (Bullock) going “how could the same shit happen to the same girl twice” only its PG-13 so she doesn’t say shit as much.

Here’s the surprising thing: There are some really well done sequences in Speed 2. They all come at the end, so most audience and critics have probably checked out by then, but there were three inventive enough beats to build a boat movie around.

First, the villain Geiger (Willem Dafoe) sets a course to crash the boat into an oil tanker. There’s a really effective drawn out buildup to the impact, established that it can’t slow down in time or turn quickly enough to avoid it, so it’s going to crash. The payoff of the cruise ship and oil tanker scraping alongside one another is cool. The score helps a lot. Mark Mancina created a new fast tempo pulse that occasionally quotes his original Speed theme.

Then the cruise ship crashes into land. I mentioned in my The Lost World retrospective that Spielberg beat Speed 2 to it by less than a month, but Speed 2 does have a much more elaborate, drawn out crash into a resort town. It looks all practical too, and it was at least a real prow of the ship.

The third prong of the finale is less original but still good stuntwork. It’s a jet ski chase which we’ve seen before, and even harpooning a plane is a stunt from Licence to Kill. If you just saw those three sequences, you wouldn’t feel that let down by the jet skis. Actually, the fact that Glenn Plummer’s character just happens to be living there and helps out with his boat gives it continuity with the original.

If they had just built Speed 2 around those three sequences, they could have had something. It’s only 30 minutes so they’d still have to pad it, yet with less of a premise than the original, it manages to be longer. Even the original Speed only had an hour of material for the bus, so bookended it with two completely different sequences.

It’s the action ON the boat that slows Speed 2 down. Remember, the big stunt in Speed was a bus jumping a 50 foot freeway gap. That’s preposterous but we were so invested in the bus by then we were like, “Yeah! Jump it!” The crises on the boat feel far less organic than even the most absurd moment in the original. I appreciate that they wanted to give audiences their money’s worth, but it just doesn’t work. Things happen just so there can be action on the boat when really not much will happen until the end when it crashes onto land. 

A lifeboat gets stuck lowering. Poison gas gets in the vents and corridors start flooding. It makes you appreciate every room on the Poseidon was a unique death trap. Alex chases Geiger around the boat and Geiger uses his computers to create distractions for Alex. Don’t get too excited. It just means he can shut a door remotely. This all feels phony. Disaster movies generally have sub incidents but these seem invented just to give Alex people to rescue, because he’s not a character otherwise.

Alex is a terrible character. The film forces him to go through the motions of being an action hero but there’s no need for him to do anything. Geiger was allowing everyone to abandon ship on lifeboats. Okay, some parents stayed aboard to look for their deaf daughter, but theoretically they could’ve rounded everyone up and abandoned ship. Let Geiger take the ship down. The cruise line has insurance. Annie even says, “You don’t have to save this ship.” She’s right. Alex has no means to be any more helpful than the other passengers.

Having every character wear a life vest for the duration of the film is a costume design nightmare. Someone should’ve spoken up in pre-production, “Yeah, we can’t look at people in orange vests for 90 minutes out of two hours.”

The Plummer cameo is fun because it’s as ridiculous that he be involved in the second movie as it is that cop destroyed his car in a bus chase in the first place. The rest of the film bends over backwards to call back the original. Look, we all know you’re doing the sequel without your star. Own it and make the best standalone action movie you can. You’re not helping matters by reminding everyone that Alex is not the guy with whom you wanted to see Annie.

Annie’s driving exam is idiotic. It’s like they took her While You Were Sleeping persona instead of her character from Speed 1. Why is she telling her driving teacher about her boyfriend? This becomes a persistent problem with sequels forgetting who their characters even are.

In my ideal version of Speed 2, I guess they still have the opening motorcycle chase to establish Alex as the new Keanu. That’s got some decent stunt driving. If they can streamline the middle to 45 minutes of getting to know characters so we care that they don’t explode in an oil tanker crash, it could be a solid 90 minutes with the final three sequences. Eh, make it 30 minutes of character. Passenger 57 got away with being barely 80 minutes.

My big question is: Where did Jan de Bont go? I figured if he stopped directing at least he would go back to cinematography but no. He’s just disappeared after 2003’s Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, which was a superior sequel but the original had already burned people out.

I guess I’m ok to watch Speed 2 once every 20 years. Maybe now I’ll remember just to watch the last 30 minutes to admire the practical stunt work, but skip the rest. I can watch a whole other movie in those 90 minutes. If you weren’t sure just how ’90s Speed 2 is, the end titles have a remix of the Speed theme.