Terrible 2’s Reviews: Speed 2 – Cruise Control
*Some people may say that most films lose their way by a third sequel, but that isn’t always the case. For every “Wrath of Khan” or “Toy Story 2,” there’s a dozen ‘number 2’ films that were made, that could not uphold the energy and enthusiasm of the first film. This review section, aims to talk about these “Terrible 2’s”*
Oftentimes, a studio has a film that they think may be a modest hit, but are surprised when it ends up doing even better than they expected.
That was the case in 1994, when Twentieth Century Fox released the movie Speed. Starring Keanu Reeves and Sandras Bullock, the story of a bus with a bomb on it, ended up cracking the Top 10 for box-office grosses that year. With over $350 million made in worldwide grosses (and on a ‘measly’ $30 million budget!), the film helped jump-start a number of careers attached to the film, and seemed to become to the 90’s, what Die Hard was to the 80’s.
Shortly after it’s release, Speed quickly ended up the butt of some pop-culture jokes. Homer Simpson couldn’t recall it’s title in a Simpsons episode, only recalling it was “about a bus that had to speed around a city, keeping it’s speed over 50.”
On the TV show The Critic, it’s writers envisioned a 30-second sequel titled Speed Reading, in which Dennis Hopper’s character rigs a book to explode, and has Reeves’ character try to read it (“Bogus!”).
Of course, Fox already had high hopes for the film upon early word-of-mouth, and after seeing how well it performed over it’s first weekend, they quickly greenlit a sequel.
Where Do We Go From Here?
When looking at the prospects of a sequel from the first film, there really didn’t seem to be much left to expand upon.
The mad bomber Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) had been taken care of, the bus had exploded, and Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock), had ended up in each other’s arms.
So…how could Hollywood mess up that happy ending? In several ways.
The hook for the sequel seemed to elude the filmmakers for awhile, until director Jan De Bont recalled a recurring nightmare he would have, where a cruise ship crashed into an island. This quickly became the jumping-off point for the sequel.
And what of Jack and Annie? Well, according to Speed 2′s story (which encompassed over 6 writers!), Annie was apparently right the first time, about how “relationships based on extreme circumstances never work out.” Apparently, Jack’s involvement in the LAPD’s bomb squad and his wanting to take risks, became too much for her, and they split.
However, she didn’t get far, before she ended up dating another member of the LAPD (and our lead for this film), Alex Shaw (Jason Patric). However, unlike Jack’s high-octane position at work, Alex has claimed he simply does bicycle patrol work at the local beach. This soon turns out to be a lie, when upon taking a driver’s test, Annie runs into Alex on assignment for the LAPD’s SWAT team.
That’s our Annie: just wants a nice quiet LAPD officer, but keeps ending up with the guys who are livin’ on the edge, 90’s style!
This story tries to show us that Alex IS actually more of a settling-down guy than Jack, as he convinces her to go on a caribbean cruise, where he intends to propose to her.
However, Alex’s calming getaway plans are put on hold, when a man named John Geiger (played by Willem Dafoe), comes aboard, with a major revenge plan, and his own agenda.
Doing It For the Money
“I want money, Jack. I wish I had some loftier purpose, but, I’m afraid it all comes down to the money, Jack” – Howard Payne, Speed (1994)
Sure, the creation of sequels to successful films usually means that bigger paydays are in order, but when it came to Speed, many from that film felt there really was no need to continue what seemed a pretty simple story.
However, some of the cast and crew couldn’t say no to a bigger paycheck from the studio.
While Titanic was on many person’s minds that year with it’s rocky production stories and $200 million budget, Speed 2 came up with budget estimates between $100-120 million. To many, that seemed excessive when compared to it’s first film’s more ‘modest’ budget.
One of the most famous stories regarding money and the cast, was Keanu Reeves turning down a payday of over $10 million to appear in the sequel. Instead, Reeves chose to tour with his band (Dogstar), and star in The Devil’s Advocate instead.
Sandra Bullock also was going to turn down the sequel, but she accepted the studio’s payday (for $11-13 million!), with the added caveat that Fox fund a film she wanted to make (1998’s Hope Floats).
Of course, most sequels usually bring back a few familiar, supporting characters to earn a few extra dollars, and that happened with two actors from the first film
Joe Morton returned as LAPD officer McMahon, though having gone down from a Captain’s role, to that of a Lieutenant.
One of the more memorable minor characters from the first film, was Maurice (Glenn Plummer). In Speed, Reeves’ character commandeers his Jaguar to get onto the bus. In the sequel, Plummer’s character is now living on the island that the ship crashed into. Almost as a nod to the first film, Patrick’s character commandeers Maurice’s new mode of transportation, a boat (also bearing the name “Tuneman,” just like his Jaguar’s license plate).
The writers even throw in a little referential jab, when Maurice finds out Allen is also a member of the LAPD (“Do you know how many hours of therapy I’ve had because of you guys?”).
Amping up the] Extras
In the first Speed, the passengers on the bus were somewhat one-dimensional, but they still managed to stay entertaining.
When it comes to the passengers that Bullock and Patric encounter, it feels almost like they are there to be examples of ‘possible futures’ for Alex and Annie.
Because it’s a cruise ship, the majority of the passengers our leading couple meet, are married couples with problems of their own.
They range from a newly-wed couple, to a bitter middle-aged couple, and even one couple that have brought their deaf daughter with them, who seems to be having issues ‘communicating’ with her father, on an emotional level.
The film tries to use the daughter as a ‘plot-device’ soon enough. First with the revelation that Alex knows sign-language and can communicate with her, but later, she ends up in a perilous situation, and he springs into action to save her.
Not quite Dennis Hopper, but Just as Nuts
Though having a minor role in Speed, method-actor Dennis Hopper made his few moment on screen count, as the logically-psychotic Howard Payne. Payne was a former bomb-squad member, who had decided to use his skills to try and claim ransom given his age and health.
For the sequel, the idea seemed to be to find someone who could be even crazier than Dennis Hopper, and who better fits that bill, than the freaky-faced, Willem DaFoe?
Yep. If you saw that bug-eyed image of DaFoe online, and wondered where it came from…now you know! That’s one of several shots of him mugging for the camera as this film’s bad guy.
DaFoe’s John Geiger however, just ends up becoming ‘Payne 2.0.’ Upset that his cruise ship designing company jettisoned him after he got copper poisoning, Geiger’s main plans are to get away with the fortune in jewels aboard the ship, but soon just decides to become another ‘mad-bomber,’ and sets the ship on a collision course with an oil tanker later on.
Dafoe does get more screentime than Hopper, but most of the time he’s just mugging for the camera, and being someone whom Sandras Bullock can just scream “let go” to over and over again (seriously, you could make a drinking game out of how many times she says those two words to Geiger).
Upping the (Effects) Ante
Much publicity was made over the implausible bus-jump in the first Speed film, which used minimal amounts of effects and model-work to tell it’s story.
For the sequel, the boat-crash scene at the end, became it’s centerpiece event. Rather than opt for miniatures, Jan de Bont wanted to do the crash into the island at full-scale.
The scene would cost upwards of $25 million, to construct everything from false buildings, to a recreation of the ship’s bow, which was placed onto 50-ft of underwater track for the sequence.
For less-practical effects, digital effects houses Industrial Light & Magic and Rhythm & Hues, would tag-team on the film.
ILM took on the brunt of the effects work that dealt with the cruise ship (such as using a digital model in the the ship-crash scenes), while R&H handled some of the more low-key shots, such as compositing in propellers and bubbles when Patric’s character attempts to slow down the ship underwater.
They also contributed to the fiery oil tanker explosion at the end of the film, as seen below.
Given the debris flying into the air, Rhythm & Hues added a little in-joke regarding director Jan de Bont. It’s not noticeable on the screenshot, but one piece of debris that is thrown into the air from the explosion, is a cow (a little nod to de Bont’s previous summer blockbuster, Twister).
With Titanic being pulled from their release schedule due to editing and effects issues, Fox was left to hedge their summer bets on Speed 2.
At the time of it’s release, I recall how they really ramped up advertising on it, hoping to draw the crowds in. They even got a segment on Dateline NBC, telling how they filmed the climactic ship crash.
The film did open at Number one it’s opening weekend, but it was considered a ‘soft opening,’ given it’s $23 million weekend draw. However, staying power was not in the cards for Speed 2 like it’s predecessor, and by the end of the Fourth of July Holiday Weekend, it sank from the Top 10 weekly grosses, eventually making back less than $50 million domestically.
The critics weren’t kind to it either, with almost every major critic claiming it had few redeeming qualities…except for two big names.
On their At The Movies TV show, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert claimed that they actually enjoyed it! I still recall Ebert claiming that while it wasn’t a great movie, it was still a good one, and even Siskel was contented enough, that the film ended up getting the duo’s “Two Thumbs Up” approval, which Fox has whoringly thrown onto all of the films’ advertising materials, even to this day.
During the 1997 awards season, the Annual Razzie Awards (a group that consider themselves “The Anti-Oscars”), nominated the film for eight of it’s awards, including Worst Screenplay, and Worst Picture. Out of all the nominations, they did win Worst Remake or Sequel, beating out the likes of Batman & Robin, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
I was willing to give Speed 2 a chance when it came out, but after seeing it, I felt there really was nothing more to say. To me, the film is still an example of the over-bloated spectacle of 90’s cinema. It’s less of a film, and more of a ‘manufactured product.’
The one thing I do remember most from that summer-afternoon screening, was the erratic ‘shaky-cam’ during the boat-and-plane chase scene at the end. We often complain about too much ‘shaky-cam’ in our films today, but I recall how just trying to watch this scene was a chore, as I struggled between the camerawork and the editing, to pull together some coherency over what was happening.
Many years later when I saw it was on Amazon Prime, I gave the film another viewing, but found my opinions hadn’t changed much over the years. Most of the time, it just feels like one of those parties where everyone shows up out of obligation…but in truth, noone wants to be there.
At the time, I felt a sequel to Speed should have encompassed a plane, given the greater probability for crashing, let alone a tense passenger scenario. The cruise ship concept was pretty ludicrous overall, given that it was a rather slow-moving ship on a large body of water. I often joke that since we had Speed 2: Cruise Control, if they did a third film with a plane, they could call it Speed 3: Air Conditioning.
The only really good thing I can say about the film, is that I do enjoy what composer Mark Mancina brought to our ears.
Mancina first captivated me with his hyper-kinetic music in the first Speed film, and after hearing his Oklahoma-meets-action stylings for 1996’s Twister, I was prepared for what he had here.
Most notable with this film’s score, is how he takes the original film’s driving strings theme, and adds an extra later of adrenaline to the mix, almost like a second heartbeat. Sadly, there would be no release for the film’s score until 2010, when Lalalandrecords released a 14-track album (limited to only 3,000 copies).