“Pop quiz, hotshot!!” Most action films are comprised of beats, wherein there are exciting sequences and then lulls in between to catch our breath and collect ourselves, but the beauty of Jan De Bont’s Speed is that as soon as the central premise is delivered to the narrative, pretty much every beat is action, the concept airtight in terms of any breathing room creeping in, and that’s one reason why I think it’s endured as a such a classic in the genre.
Dennis Hopper plays yet another wild eyed lunatic here, and it’s scary to think that his mad bomber Howard Payne was once a decorated LAPD officer. He’s now a very pissed off ex police officer who has gone psychotic and started blowing shit up all over the city, attracting the attention of daredevil super cop Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves). Howard gets elaborate when he decides to rig a city bus with a device that will blow it the fuck to bits of the driver slows down past fifty miles per hour, and from then on in the film barely stops to grab a coffee, take a piss or collect its thoughts. Howard masterminds the whole deal from a secret surveillance lab, Jack races to board the bus and defuse the bomb and intrepid civilian Annie (Sandra Bullock) takes over the wheel after the driver has a heart attack. Reeves and Hopper play off each other like flint and steel, it’s a hero villain smackdown for the ages between a rock steady officer of the law and a probably once great detective who has lost his mind but none of his wily nerve. Keanu and Sandra also have great romantic chemistry too but it’s underplayed and sort of seems natural, which isn’t always easy to pull off. Throw in Joe Morton, Beth Grant, Glenn Plummer, Alan Ruck, Hawthorne James, Richard Schiff, Veronica Cartwright and scene stealer Jeff Daniels as Keanu’s charismatic senior partner and you’ve got one hell of an ensemble.
This was one of the first R rated action cookouts I was allowed to see (hell, I think I even saw it before Die Hard) and it still blows my mind as much today as it did back then. The stunts and set pieces are all unbelievable and so kinetically explosive its a wonder that talented cinematographer Andrej Bartkowiak could keep his lenses following them. Everything with the bus on freeways and overpasses is extraordinary (that heart-stopping bridge gap!) but don’t even get me started on the balls out underground subway crash that blows the lid off any sound system it touches. A classic.
What if the power in an entire state/province all went out at once, for an indefinite amount of time? David Koepp’s The Trigger Effect shows you just what would happen in this scenario, albeit in the 90’s before everyone had a smartphone to keep them on the grid. After a mass blackout across California, one suburban couple (Kyle MaClachlan and Elizabeth Shue) attempt to weather the storm of confusion, vandalism and eventual madness that sweeps across the region. It starts with subtle domestic friction between the two, but as they venture out for provisions they bear witness to the lawless, frenzied chaos that such an event can do to the populous. It doesn’t help when Maclachlan’s roughneck buddy Dermot Mulroney shows up to turn an already strained marriage into an outright deceptive love triangle, adding to the tension. Some of the finer plot points and scenarios can be a bit silly but the aura of unease that covers everything is quite well done, and the acting is solid. Supporting turns include William Lucking as a gruff pharmacist, Richard T. Jones as a desperate father, Richard Schiff, Jack Noseworthy, Bill Smitrovich and more as various individuals affected by the widespread panic. The best performance of the film, however, comes from an explosive, scary Michael Rooker as a mysterious hitchhiker who may or may not be friendly. His extended cameo blasts the energy level of the film from mellow to frenetic in a matter of seconds, leaving us shellshocked in his wake. This isn’t a knock your socks off thriller by any means, and has it’s own strange way of pacing itself that may leave some cold, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere it offered, the eclectic cast and how immersive the experience was from that first blackout until the resolution. Good stuff.
Fire With Fire is one in a long string of recent direct to video flicks that Bruce Wilis seems oddly intent on appearing in. Some are cool (Catch 44), some are halfassed (The Prince) and some are just plain poo (Set Up). This one falls in the first category. It’s an overblown and unbelievable little thriller but it has a great cast on it’s side, and when you score Vincent Donofrio for your villain role, you’ll always at least have some merit. The story is pure B movie: a studly firefighter (Josh Dumahel) ends up seeing something he shouldn’t and gets on the wrong side of a vicious neo nazi psychopath (Donofrio) and his crew. Just his luck though, as his foxy girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) happens to be an FBI agent working on a task force headed up by a gruff senior operative (Bruce Willis). Willis has been trying to nail Donofrio and his gang for years, and he finally has a handy little firefighter witness to testify. Donofrio won’t stop though, making their lives hell as he shakes their shit up right left and center. He’s a hell of an actor, especially when playing the baddie (his turns in The Cell, Daredevil, The Salton Sea and Men In Black are legendary), and this loose cannon weirdo white supremacist nut job is one more to add to the canon. Duhamel does his classic laid back pretty boy thing, Dawson is tough and oh so attractive as always, and Willis dials up the grumpy metre for a nice little jaded turn that i actually really enjoyed. Vinnie Jones lends his mug to the role of second in command, 50 Cent shows up (wherever Willis and Deniro go in B movie land, he unnervingly seems to tag along), and watch for more work from Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Julian McMahon, Richard Schiff, Arie Verveen and Kevin Dunn. I like the chaotic formula employed here: a bunch of characters running around, large cast, flashy violent spectacle, flamboyant villain. It almost seems like a 70’s genre piece, and I’d love to have seen a hand drawn, retro style poster with a bunch of stuff sprawled together in a mural like those old school flicks used to do. It sure would beat the generic, vanilla design they went with and I feel like the film deserves more. Great stuff.
People rag on What’s The Worst That Could Happen all the time. Let em, and screw em while we’re at it. Implausible? Yes. Silly? Yup. Ridiculous? Oh yes. Funny? You bet your ass. It’s one of those lighthearted Martin Lawrence comedies like Blue Streak or National Security, tripping along an alleyway of lowbrow humour and bawdy antics that you just can’t stay mad at, like a friend who does something really dumb and follows up with something that cracks a grin on your face. Lawrence also has the luck to be paired with Danny Devito here, who is funny even when he isn’t trying to be. Lawrence plays Kevin, a cocky cat burglar who bungles the wrong dude when he breaks into the not so vacant summer home of sleazy billionaire Max Fairbanks (Devito). Max catches him red handed, holds him at gunpoint and convinces the cops that a family heirloom ring on Kevin’s finger is part of the stolen goods, adding insult to arrest. That dick move launches an ego fuelled battle of wills as these two morons find more and more elaborate ways to incite each other’s wrath. They each have a little armada who back them up when they aren’t questioning their every idiotic movie. Kevin has his gorgeous girlfriend (Carmen Ejogo has sadly made a career of being underused), his partner Berger (John Leguizamo plays around with accents like you ain’t never seen) who is the Dumber to his Dumb, and his sassy handler (Bernie Mac). Max is hounded by his witchy wife (Nora Dunn), shunned by his much abused attorney (a dry, delightful Richard Schiff), pawned over by his mistress (Glenne Headly) and secretly lusted for by his chief of security (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Larry Miller do his thang here). Max and Kevin are engaging arch enemies, with Lawrence mugging for face time a tad too much, and Devito perfectly settled into his shtick as always. I must make note of probably the best performance of the film, from William Fichtner as a flamboyantly gay police detective who hounds all parties involved. He’s one part frightening with a side of classy charm, subverting his usual weirdo tough guy image for something even weirder and totally out there. Watch for Lenny Clarke and Siobhan Hogan as as pair of squabbling fellow burglars, and work from Cam Neely, Kevin Chapman and Garry Shandling as well. It’s a screwball caper. I love it. Many don’t. They can suck it. Check ‘er out and make up your own mind.