Picks and Pans Review: Speed

updated 06/20/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/20/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels, Sandra Bullock

There's a madman (Hopper) on the loose in Los Angeles in this gripping if by-the-book action thriller. He wants big money ($3 million) and he wants it fast. Otherwise the people trapped in an office-building elevator that he outfitted with a dynamite pack aren't going to make it to the ground floor alive. Reeves, a cop on the LAPD swat team and his partner (Daniels), a bomb expert, are called to the scene and save the passengers just in time. They earn merit badges from the department and the enmity of Hopper, who quickly finds a new vehicle for his rage: He plants a bomb on a Los Angeles city bus (Speed will do nothing to further the cause of mass transit in the City of Angels). Let the bus's pace fall below 50 miles an hour and it will explode. And Hopper has set his get-everybody-off-the-bus fare at $3.7 million. When the bus driver is shot by a hysterical passenger, Reeves—who makes it onboard after a hilarious chase down the freeway in a commandeered ear—turns the wheel over to a regular passenger on the route (Bullock in a bright performance). She is just the woman for the job. As she confesses to Reeves, she has been taking the bus since her driver's license was revoked for speeding. Speed, which taps into every cliché of the genre (a pursuit atop a moving vehicle, the race against lime, the villain who used to be a good guy) could not bear the weight of close scrutiny. Why, for example, would canny police officers, knowing what they do about the maniacal bombmad bad guy carelessly enter his house? Why would an enormous explosion, key to the plot, not get reported on the news? And the acting of Reeves is almost as wooden as dialogue like, "Guts will get you so far, and then guts get you killed." Still, the very fact that much of the story unfolds on a speeding bus and later on a speeding subway provides an intrinsic, inexorable sense of momentum. Speed is worth the ride. (R)

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