Speed 2: Cruise Control

Speed 2: Cruise Control
July 28th 2023

Following Jan De Bont’s audience favorite Speed (1994), which earned over $350 million globally, was never going to be an easy feat. The inspired mash-up of police procedural, sadistic thriller, and set-piece-heavy action movie was one of the biggest hits of that summer, only bested by the likes of The Lion King, Forrest Gump, True Lies, and The Mask. It turned Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and the 1966 General Motors New Look bus into household names and offered an alternative to the type of ’80s muscle-bound machismo to which audiences had grown accustomed, and which was still commonplace at the local multiplex. Naturally, 20th Century Fox fast-tracked a sequel, Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997), which is still Sandra Bullock’s biggest regret.

The most immediate departure from the first Speed is the absence of Keanu Reeves, who turned down the part because he disliked the script, prompting Jason Patric to take his place on the LAPD SWAT bomb disposal unit. Bullock returns, reprising her role from the first film; her Annie Porter is now in a relationship with Patric’s Alex Shaw. Rather than ride a bus, they’re now on a cruise ship for vacation, pushing Bullock into John McClane territory: “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” As in the first film, the cruise ship has been compromised by a villain, on course to collide with a tanker ship in the Caribbean Sea.

The first film had the benefit of a great villain in Dennis Hopper’s former cop with a penchant for explosives. Speed 2 tries to up the ante by casting an equally menacing Willem Dafoe as a computer hacker with a penchant for leeches. It’s a characteristically idiosyncratic performance from Dafoe, equal parts raised eyebrows and meme-ready grin. His threat is never as immediate as the “bomb on a bus goes boom if you go too slow” gimmick from the first film, but the bravado he brings to the role puts him in good company with Hopper, with whom few actors could even hope to stand toe-to-toe.

Speed 2 is the type of left-field would-be-blockbuster that was all the rage in the 1990s, though it is saddled with the legacy of a beloved, and massively successful, film that remained in the public consciousness for the three intervening years. From its staggering $160 million production budget, it’s clear that Fox sought to grab a hold of its franchise opportunity; much of that budget is on display in the film’s sea-to-sky climax. Speed 2 gets a lot of guff for being slow, relative to its title, but its finale remains an amazing spectacle, all but forgotten now due to the film’s lackluster reception, by critics and public alike (though Siskel & Ebert did give it two thumbs up). The sequel may not hold a candle to the first film, but it doesn’t need to. Speed 2 is a delirious concoction of practical-effects wizardry, scenery-chewing performances, ’90s hacker bullshit, and a few misplaced leeches. It might not be the sequel that audiences expected in 1997, but it’s unequivocally the one that they deserved. It’s time to reclaim it, even if Sandra Bullock won’t.

Speed 2: Cruise Control screens this afternoon, July 28, at Roxy Cinema on 35mm