We at THN collectively love Keanu Reeves and have been immensely excited about his return this year in JOHN WICK. Although not released in UK cinemas until April, THN have been lucky enough to have already seen it and we can tell you that it is all kinds of awesome.
JOHN WICK was so brilliant that it has awoken my long-forgotten admiration for Mr Reeves and compelled me to revisit his extensive back catalogue immediately. As readers of previous instalments will remember Keanu Reeves was one of my teenage girl crushes alongside Christian Slater. Given that I was a teen during the early noughties these choices might seem a little odd to some of you. Me and my friend though had different tastes to our more mainstream friends – and my choices make a little more sense than Val Kilmer and cartoon character Gambit. Keanu celebrated 50 last year but doesn’t appear to have aged much at all, he must have one of those Dorian Grey style portraits hidden away someplace. 50 also means that technically Reeves is old enough to be my dad (he’s older than my mum) but the heart wants what the heart wants.
Every Friday between now and the release of JOHN WICK on 10th April, I’ll be taking a look at a different Keanu classic. This week’s classic was made when he was pretty much my current age of 30, the 1994 action masterstroke that is SPEED.
After flexing his action muscles in last week’s subject POINT BREAK, Keanu found himself the recipient of several high action, high concept projects. He made the decision to go with the highest concept venture which was Jan De Bont’s tale of a bus with a bomb attached. The premise is simple, Keanu must save the passengers of a commuter bus after a bomb is planted on it. Set to trigger once the bus goes over 50mph, Reeves must ensure that the speed doesn’t drop back below 50. If it does, they all go caput. It’d have been a completely different tale had the film been set in central London, you can barely go 5mph on a bus there. The original script did not interest Reeves however, as he believed it was too much of a DIE HARD clone; Joss Whedon was then brought in, rewriting almost all of the dialogue, then Reeves agreed to do the project.
SPEED is the film that made you wary about getting onto a lift, bus or tube. The opening sequence in particular, featuring the lift rescue, is forever embedded into my memory. Along with that segment in the first RESIDENT EVIL, I still think twice about boarding a lift; the stairs are also healthier right? It is in these opening scenes that we are introduced to Reeve’s Jack Traven, an LAPD police officer. That’s right, he’s sticking to the same district as Johnny Utah, only this time he’s lower down the government department hierarchy. Along with his partner Harry, played by Jeff Daniels, he thwarts bad guy Howard Payne’s (Dennis Hopper) plan to blow up a lift full of nineties office working stereotypes. Not one to be outdone though, Payne orchestrates a second elaborate scheme involving a bus. It’s not really that elaborate a plan though, as he makes several foolish and key mistakes; he lets Jack know that he’s watching him on TV, and later that he can see him even though the press helicopters have gone. He also picks the worst time to go to the toilet.
For me this is the one film where Keanu almost doesn’t look like himself, his stockier build almost making him appear much shorter than his 6″1 frame. Reeves built up so much muscle and bulk for the role that the part where Jack bangs on the bus and breaks the window was real. He also did 90% of his own stunts. The short hair doesn’t help maintain his normal appearance either, but that’s not necessarily Reeves’ fault. Jan De Bont demanded that Keanu get a more sensible haircut that would be fitting of a hard-working cop. The studio however were so horrified with the buzzcut that they threatened to postpone the movie until it had grown back. Ultimately they came to an agreement, and Reeve’s has only had his hair this short twice since, whilst in the real world in THE MATRIX.
SPEED was Reeve’s first real role with a leading lady (yes, Johnny Utah was dating Tyler in POINT BREAK, but we all know that Bodhi was the ‘leading lady’ of that film). He was paired with Sandra Bullock, who back then was still a relative newcomer to the world of showbiz. The studio again got involved and tried to pair Reeve’s with a bigger name actress, contenders included Sigourney Weaver, Glenn Close and Anjelica Huston. They were clearly thinking about a cougar style relationship. Thankfully De Bont got his way and Bullock got the part of Annie. Their relationship isn’t based on a deep connection, but rather a shared experience, with Annie remarking that relationships that start out that way don’t last. But audiences were still happy that they ended up together, even if they were to break up the week later.
The film was a ridiculous hit making over $350,000 worldwide from it’s rather modest $25 million budget. Fox were initially worried that the project was going to be an epic disaster, only having their minds changed during test screenings. Audience members were so enthralled with the film that they would walk backwards when they needed the bathroom so that they wouldn’t miss anything.
Inevitably the film’s success bred a sequel. Sadly the sequel, SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL, is pretty poor. The plot centred on a cruise liner, and starred Jason Patric and Willem Dafoe alongside Sandra Bullock. Co-Star Sandra Bullock may have returned for the sequel, but thankfully Reeve’s was clever enough to side step it in favour of touring with his band Dogstar.
As with POINT BREAK, SPEED got itself a parody. It wasn’t a big blockbusting film this time though, instead it was the brilliant Irish sitcom Father Ted. In the quirky Irish comedy, trainee priest Dougal (Ardal O’Hanlon) become a milkman and discovered that a vindictive former milkman had rigged his milk-float with a bomb.
Pop quiz, you love the film SPEED, so how should you show it? Well for one Moscow, Idaho native the answer is simple – own as many copies as you can. Ryan Beitz has made it his life’s mission to own all the VHS copies of SPEED in existence. As of April last year he had around 550 copies, so he’s got a long way to go, but you have to admire is mad gusto.
SPEED isn’t the most cerebral of films, but is the perfect film to enjoy with a beer with a Friday or Saturday night takeaway. Personally I feel pizza is the takeaway to have whist watching, but other kinds are perfectly good to. It’s an action packed, explosion heavy, high concept thrill ride of a movie.
Come back next Friday when I’ll be looking at the film that changed the world of sci-fi and special effects as I explore the birth of bullet-time and Reeves as ‘The One’ in THE MATRIX.
If you’ve missed any of the previous Keanu Classics you can find them all here.