Thursday, January 28, 2010

Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)

Before 1994's Speed, no one had seen a movie quite like it before. Die Hard had been remade numerous times in varying scenarios, but on a city bus? Outrageous! Which is why Speed 2: Cruise Control had to up the ante even more. The vessel had to be bigger and more powerful. The passengers more annoying. Keanu Reeves even more wooden and oblivious. Unfortunately, Reeves turned down the role and a massive paycheck to tour with his super-cool band Dogstar, and the screenwriters quickly rewrote his character to accommodate the slightly less wooden Jason Patric in the same role.


Patric plays Alex Shaw, daredevil police officer whose job is to cause as much peril and property damage as possible for the most minor of offenses. In the opening scene, Shaw races on a motorcycle after a truck filled with stolen computer parts, accepting that petty theft is a much graver crime than potential vehicular manslaughter. Fortunately no one dies, and the cost of the destruction at least matches the price of the stolen goods, so it's considered a success.

Shaw did not tell his girlfriend Annie (Sandra Bullock, returning for the sequel) about his reckless ways, due mainly to her fractious prior relationship with Jack (Reeves's role from the previous movie). He instead reveals the truth on their seven month anniversary (which, by its definition, is not an anniversary), buffering the news with a trip to the Caribbean. Annie is upset, and angrily declares that he "can't just pull out tickets to some exotic island and think that's gonna make everything okay." Later on the cruise ship, after redeeming their tickets to some exotic island, everything is okay.

Of course everything is not okay. The Seabourn Legend is no ordinary cruise ship. It is the target of John Geiger (Willem Dafoe), a genius lunatic with nothing to lose. He boards the boat with a bag full of beeping explosive golf clubs with large LED displays.

C4: Now available at The Sharper Image.

Also he looks like this.

Chaos reigns!

His plan and motives are clear-cut. Create ship valve malfunction, plant transmitter in control room, place pumpkin bombs in ventilation supply to suggest fires across the ship, throw captain overboard, evacuate ship, close fire doors to prevent people from escape (even though there are no fires), steal jewelry, crash ship, take hostage, escape on plane, live on exotic island with pile of money and leech nurses.

"Yessss. This ought to cure my fake disease."

Geiger worked for a company which designed the ship's guidance system, until the "electromagnetic fields" from the computers gave him a lethal dose of "copper poisoning" (which I'm sure is a real thing. Tell your IT friends). Instead of taking his revenge out on the company that fired him, he decides its clients are to blame. I can understand the jewelry, but why kill the captain? Why allow an evacuation and then terrorize the remaining people on the ship? I know he's supposed to be insane, but insanity only goes so far when you can design sophisticated computer systems and explosive devices on the fly.

It's so bad!

Geiger also carries a Power Glove control system, where he can make minute adjustments to the ship's trajectory at a moment's notice. Of course, he designs the system with clunky full-word commands that he must painstakingly type out every time. To close the stern door he types "CLOSE."

"Hi I'm Clippy! I see you're inputing a binary function during a tense situation. Would you like to try shortening the commands to O and C?"

When the computer asks him when to initiate, he types "NOW."

"Hi Clippy again. My systems don't recognize Now o'clock."

Alex springs into action to stop Geiger and his devious-ish plan. Annie sits back and lets her man do his thing, placing himself into trouble, causing untold complications, and basically mucking everything up from the get-go. At one point he strong-arms the navigator into flooding the ballast to slow down the ship. Not only does this plan fail, but he then puts deaf teenager Drew (Christine Firkins) into danger and must go down and save her. Also, by flooding the ship, he completely submerges the manual rudder control, which they must use later to steer the ship away from an oil tanker.

While rescuing Drew from his own mistake, he takes a shotgun with him. Why? Is he going to shoot the water? Maybe give the little girl a flesh wound, thus attracting sharks who will guide them to safety? He holds on to the shotgun throughout the entire flooding sequence, clinging to it desperately where it would have been easier to abandon.
"Grab onto my non-gun hand!"

Of course the real reason he has the shotgun is because the screenwriters wrote in a scene where he confronts Geiger immediately afterwards, and needs the firearm as leverage during the exchange.

Though Geiger is seen as an immediate danger at all times, he is barely homicidal as far as Hollywood villains go. The only person he actually kills is the captain by throwing him overboard. This normally wouldn't cause instant death, but Speed 2 makes it clear that if anyone falls off the ship, they will always be sucked underneath and eviscerated by the propeller. This isn't so problematic toward the end when they're colliding with schooners and rowboats, and the passengers sort of dive into the water and look at each other with abject guffaw as the 75,000 ton cruise liner glides by.

Nor is it much of an issue when the ship barrels through a highly populated seaside community completely unaffected by the sound of a ship scraping against the side of an oil tanker just off shore. People are even oblivious to the cruise liner as it levels the entire town, splitting foundations and cutting through concrete like butter, not noticing until they look up and OH NO CRUISE SHIP. Maybe it's a deaf community. Drew would fit right in.

As silly as Speed 2: Cruise Control is, it's actually a pretty fun action film. Jan de Bont is a capable director, and his shot composition provides the right amount of tension and clarity to create an enjoyable experience. The chaos leading up to the initial danger is contrasted with shots on the dance floor of passengers unaware of the danger to come. As the ship levels the town, the scene is expertly organized and gleefully destructive. Sandra Bullock once called this movie "the biggest piece of crap ever made." Clearly she did not watch Premonition.

Though de Bont just replaces Reeves with Patric as the strapping devil-may-care protagonist, a closer reading shows Alex exacerbating the situation while Annie goes through and cleans up his mess. While Alex jumps onto a teetering lifeboat to save the passengers, Annie lowers the gangplank to provide escape for everyone (including her boyfriend). When passengers are trapped by the automatic fire doors, it is Annie who seizes one of the ship's TWO chainsaws to bust them out. And when Alex heroically chases after the bad guy, Annie is the one who saves him from smoke inhalation by removing the grenade from the door handle.

While Annie was largely the damsel in distress in the first film, here she serves as protector and savior, mitigating problems instead of adding to them. If Alex were not on the cruise ship, everyone evacuates safely and Geiger escapes, only to be caught by Interpol at a leech convention in Oslo three weeks later.

Quotable quotes:
Annie: Relationships based on extreme circumstances never work out.

Annie: So who's ready to par-tay on the big boat besides me?

Annie: We have our life vests. We can just jump off the ship, right?
Dante: You'd get sucked into the propellers. I wouldn't recommend it.
Annie: Yeah that would SUCK.

Annie: You don't have to save this ship.
Alex: (long pause. Leaves).

Geiger: What're you gonna do, Annie? Splash water on me?

Geiger: (after Annie sets off a signal flare) Do we have a FIERY TEMPER!
Arbitrary rating system:

13.6 knots.

Super-great Don LaFontaine trailer:


  1. Speed 3: Rime if the Ancient Mari-DEATH! (it's a prequel)

  2. Speed 26: If This Hovercar Goes Under 98 Kaltreks We're All Gonna Die!