“Awwwww, Keanu and Sandra are so cute together!”
That was my main thought when I recently rewatched the 1994 film, Speed. There’s a lot of reasons why Speed remains popular 28 years after it was initially released but I think a huge (if underrated) factor is that it’s just a good love story. At this point, everyone knows that the film is about a bus that has been wired to explode if it goes under 50 miles per hour. Most people know that Dennis Hopper plays Howard, the mad bomber, Keanu Reeves plays Jack, the cop who jumps on the bus and tries to figure out how to defuse the bomb, and Sandra Bullock plays Annie, the passenger who takes over driving the bus after the driver is incapacitated. (If you’re fan of the work of John Hughes, you might also know that Speed was the film where Ferris Bueller‘s Alan Ruck broke free of his Cameron typecasting and established himself as a dependable character actor.) Most people remember what the cops do in an attempt to trick Dennis Hopper and, for that matter, they also remember the one mistake that led to Hopper figuring out their ruse.
And yet, even though most viewers will know exactly what is going to happen, the film remains a fun watch because of the chemistry between Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. This was one of Sandra’s first major roles. This was also one of Keanu’s earliest attempts to helm a big budget, major studio action picture. (Director Jan de Bont insisted on casting him after seeing him in the film Point Break. The studio preferred Tom Cruise.) In Speed, both Keanu and Sandra are young, likable, attractive, enthusiastic, and they have smiles that light up the screen. As soon as Sandra takes over driving and Keanu tells her that she cannot allow the bus to slow down under any circumstances, the two of them just seem to belong together. The film’s enduring popularity is about more than just watching a bus try not to go under a certain speed. The popularity of Speed is also about watching the characters played by Keanu and Sandra fall in love.
Who would have guessed it? Well, certainly not whoever put together the film’s original theatrical trailer. Check this out:
As you can see, the original trailer doesn’t feature much of Sandra Bullock. For that matter, it’s not quite as Keanu-centric as you might expect it to be. Instead, the trailer is dominated by things exploding and Dennis Hopper’s over-the-top performance as the bomber. And make no doubt about it, Dennis Hopper is definitely an entertaining part of the film. There’s not a subtle moment to be found in his performance and that makes him the perfect for the role of a man whose response to a cheap retirement present is to go on a bombing spree. That said, the film belongs to Keanu and Sandra.
That said, it would be a mistake to ignore the other people on the bus. One of the things that I like about Speed is that the other passengers on the bus come together to survive their ordeal. They may start out as weary commuters but, by the end of the film, they’ve become a family. They may get annoyed with each other but, when it comes time to climb from one bus to another, they hold on to each other and they hug one another on the other side. The bomber, like all terrorists, thought that he could turn people against each other through his threats and his violence. Instead, the people came together provided one another with comfort and protection. There’s an important lesson there, one that’s even more important in 2022 than it probably was in 1994.
(On a personal note, I’m not usually a public transportation person. However, in high school, I would occasionally catch the DART bus — that’s Dallas Area Rapid Transportation — if it was raining. The buses were often not in particularly good shape. One that I boarded actually had a hole in the floor and, since it was raining, the passengers would have to hold up their feet whenever the bus splashed through a puddle. Personally, I was kind of amused by the weirdness of it all but I think I was the only one. Would the passengers of that bus bonded together to defeat a mad bomber? One can only hope.)
Speed may be a film about a bomb on a bus but, ultimately, it’s also a film about humanity at its best. And that’s why, after all this time, it remains a classic.