'Speed': THR's 1994 Review
On June 10, 1994, 20th Century Fox revved up actioner Speed in theaters, where it would go on to be a summer hit grossing $120 million-plus stateside. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below:
There should be traffic jams at the box office as Fox picks up many busloads of riders for its fast and furiously entertaining thriller Speed. Opening wide and getting the jump on other seasonal action fare, Speed is a good bet to race through most of the summer and post one of the year's highest total grosses.
Recalling the fortuitous combination of a good, relatively offbeat cast and a mostly believable scenario that made Fox's Die Hard a blockbuster, Speed offers Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and a Santa Monica commuter bus in a perilous game with a money-hungry bomber played by Dennis Hopper.
Eschewing most of the cliched character development and subplots that dragged out the typical Irwin Allen disaster flick, first-time screenwriter Graham Yost employs smart dialogue and well-timed tests of mettle to make his heroes, innocents and villain come vibrantly to life.
Opening with a crowd-cheering elevator rescue that introduces LAPD SWAT partners Jack (Reeves) and Harry (Jeff Daniels), as well as the pyrotechnically masterful but cracked Howard (Hopper), the film quickly accelerates into the main attraction. Foiled by Jack at the outset, Howard plants a bomb on a bus with a dozen or so passengers, with the device set to explode if the bus goes slower than 50 mph. For good measure, he taunts our hero, demands several million dollars and places all kinds of harsh conditions on any plans for rescuing the passengers and averting disaster.
With the help of a courageous woman passenger (Bullock), who takes over driving the bus, the exciting race to stay alive while handling a series of obstacles and complications provides plenty of close calls and death-defying feats. Moving to the completed and uncompleted sections of the L.A. subway for its get-the-villain climax, the scenario inevitably stretches believability too much. It plays well enough, but a trim here and there could have improved the final section.
Reeves, shorn of the dudesicle look and attitude of his youth comedies and the stiffness of his period roles, is well-cast as an everyday hero with a menacing intensity who's an admirably quick thinker on his feet. Bullock, whose character is allowed to realistically react to the danger and carnage, should win many more fans with her assured, confident performance. As the brainy villain, Hopper is effectively conservative in his approach.
Director Jan De Bont (the cinematographer of Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October), making his feature debut, expertly builds tension and uncorks magnificent scenes of vehicular mayhem. Honors are due the pedal-to-the-metal production team for the film's terrific wide-screen imagery, great editing and excellent sound work. — David Hunter, originally published June 6, 1994.