June 23, 1997

‘Speed 2’ Doesn’t Fly

Jeff Sackmann Mead
 

I’m sure the question on the mind of every prospective viewer of “Speed 2: Cruise Control” is: “Will Jason Patric be as good as Keanu Reeves?” The truth is, I hardly noticed.

Patric, supposedly in the leading role, played second fiddle to returning female lead Sandra Bullock, villain Willem Dafoe and, especially, everything that was blown up. Patric didn’t get any of the good lines, and spent several suspenseful moments submerged, seconds away from death.

The original “Speed” is one of my favorite action movies of all time. It features non-stop suspense, an intelligent, well-written script and one of the best villains (played by Dennis Hopper) ever. “Speed 2” stole many elements of the original, but didn’t steal enough.

While “Speed 2” is a feeble update of the original, it bears striking resemblance to director Jan De Bont’s last film, “Twister.” That film, a personal favorite, doesn’t have much of a plot, but is likable because of its revolutionary special effects and feverish level of suspense.

“Speed 2” hinted at the same type of success, but it too lacks a plot. It has edge-of-the-seat moments and some high-powered fireworks at sea, but they weren’t as consistent as those in “Twister.” Entirely too much of “Speed 2” lacked excitement.

Like its predecessor, “Speed 2” opens with the male lead in hot pursuit of a computer thief. After Alex stops the criminal, he runs into his girlfriend, Annie (Bullock), and they have an argument. By the time the screenwriters realize they’ve completely lost the audience’s attention, they send Alex and Annie on a cruise to make up.

Of course, the cruise is doomed. As with the bus in “Speed,” the cruise ship sports a wide array of quasi-interesting, underdeveloped characters. This time the bit parts include a teenager deaf girl who develops a crush on Alex, and a couple who founded a weight-loss program in which “fat is your friend.”

This, predictably, is done so that we can feel sorry for someone when the ship is about to sink. It doesn’t work.

The villain, Geiger (DaFoe), differs from the rest of the cast through his brilliance. Dafoe, who has played everyone from Jesus to the bad guy in “The English Patient,” puts his extensive and obvious screen experience to work in the nastiest villain since the first “Speed.”

His plan, in short, is to get back at the employers who fired him by hijacking the boat and running it into an oil tanker. Alex and Annie, of course, are the only ones who can stop him, but his plan (like that of Hopper’s in “Speed”) is almost foolproof. Alex and Annie spend a great deal of the movie searching fruitlessly for its Achilles’ heel.

Eventually, the real star of the show, the special effects, kicks in. After viewers wait a painful hour for anything to happen, the suspense level cranks itself up a few notches, and the film that minutes before deserved a walkout is suddenly compelling.

I wouldn’t dare give away the conclusion, but the fireworks compare to both the trailer scene in “The Lost World” and anything “Twister” had to offer. But, as the recent career of Sylvester Stallone has taught us, special effects aren’t all a movie needs.

Despite its few moments of glory, “Speed 2” is really a sad pretender of a sequel and doesn’t deserve to wear the “Speed” name. With “The Lost World” and “Con Air” in theaters, “Speed 2’s” genre is crowded enough and had room only for worthy films.

If I had it to do over again, I’d skip the theater and rent the original.

Grade: D+


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