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The World's World Cruise Trip
Speed 2: Cruise Control
I think just about every fan of action movies can agree: 1994's Speed is a great film. Yes, it's a little dumb in places, and the last act of the movie gets a tad shaggy, but overall it's a tense and taut action thrill ride with a bit of humor and two infectiously great charismatic leads. And really, most of that credit all due to Keanu Reeves, an actor that gets a lot of shit for his dull performances in dramatic movies; put them man in an action film, like Speed, and he's in his element. He can sell just about any action movie just by being is cool self.
Which is what makes Speed 2 so baffling. Yes, co-star Sandra Bullock was great in the first movie, but she acts as a kind of comic relief-cum-damsel in distress. What made the film work was Keanu being Keanu, centering the whole thing. Keanu, though, didn't want to make Speed 2. Fox, the studio behind the films, expected him to reprise his role, but after reading the final script, Keanu passed. Along with the fact that he hated the script, he said he was "financially secure" and just didn't want to do another action flick at the time. Instead, he went, filmed a drama (The Devil's Advocate, which actually isn't bad) and then toured with his band for a while. Looking back, saying, "nah, brah, I'm good on cash," and then bumming around with your garage band for a long stint was actually the right career move. Speed 2 is that bad.
Instead we have Annie (Bullock) returning from the first film, now dating some new dude-bro, the particularly bland Alex Shaw (Jason Patric). Annie thinks Alex is the opposite of Jack (Reeves in the first film), a quiet man not prone to throwing himself into danger, day after day. But soon Annie learns that Alex is a lot like Jack, working on the SWAT team and taking on dangerous situations every day. This puts her in a tizzy because she thinks Alex has been lying to her for the past few months. However, Alex convinces her to go on a cruise together so they can spend time away and just learn about each other.
As luck would have it, though, the cruise ship they're booked on, the Seabourn Legend, gets taken over by a mad terrorist, John Geiger (Willem Dafoe), a cruise ship designer who blames the cruise line for his sudden illness (and them firing him soon after, although maybe that was just because he was a crazy, wild-eyed, sonuvabitch). So, in mid-cruise around the Bahamas, Geiger suddenly sets the cruise ship on autopilot, locks the crew out, and sends the ship traveling towards an island where it will explode. Oh, and he also raids the ship's vault of all its expense diamonds and various other valuables (so he can live the good life on his own island). He just has to find a way to escape before Alex, and Annie, manage to stop him.
Frankly, there's a lot of things wrong with this film but the first issue is simply that the original movie really wasn't about Annie. Yes, she's great and funny but she has no training and really isn't all that great in a sticky situation. When the cruise ship gets taken over, Annie just want to grab a lifeboat and bail but it's Alex who stays behind, who gets into danger, who does his job. That would be fine if we knew Alex and cared about him, but he's not the returning character from the first film; that's Annie, and the movie keeps her out of most of the danger. We're not connected to Alex so we simply don't care if he gets his man or not.
There's a bigger issue at play, which is that Jason Patrick sucks as Officer Alex Shaw. He's not quite as bad as Steven Segal in any of that man's movies; Patrick is actually a good actor, so in the quiet moments, in the character bits between himself and Bullock's Annie, he sells his character well enough. Alex, though, doesn't have a lot going or him as he's basically a stand-in for Keanu (I could literally see them going through the script and find/replacing "Jack" for "Alex") and we learn nothing about him except that he's a cop. Given that, Patrick doesn't have anything to work off of or invest in, so his character remains kind of a bland cypher. He exists, and that's about all we can say.
Bullock is the returning star, and she's the one with legitimate chemistry. Of course, this was a paycheck movie and it feels like it from Bullock's performance. She's fine, but not great, and was clearly in this film (as reported) so she could finance her next passion project, Hope Floats (which, spoiler, was also awful). She's not invested here and develops next-to-zero chemistry with Patrick. The two characters don't connect and have nothing going on between them.
The movie also makes the big mistake of largely sidelining Annie for the whole middle act of the film. Once Geiger get his plan going, and all hell breaks loose, bland Alex takes over and Annie just stands back and largely watches. Annie is our lead, but she's not an action hero and, to be fair, it would have been weird if suddenly she became the super cop over her boyfriend, the actual cop. Still, we aren't here to watch the Alex Show, we're here for Annie and the movie couldn't care less about her for most of it.
The biggest problem, though, is simply that a cruise ship is nowhere near as exciting as all the set pieces from the first film. We had a falling elevator, and then a high-speed bus ride through the streets of L.A., all before another high-speed run in a subway train. Speed, as the title would imply, was always the point with situations where time is of the essence. A cruise ship, though, cruises. It doesn't move fast, and the distances it covers are broad. Watching a cruise ship slowly careen towards and obstacle over the course of several (realistic, mind you) minutes doesn't have the same visceral appeal of watching a bus plow through city streets. It's simply not even in the same league.
I don't know how the film really could have been salvaged. A different setting would have been good (a high-speed plane ride through the Himalayas was apparently one of the ideas that was batted around during pre-production), but the fact that Keanu Reeves didn't sign on for the sequel should have been the death blow for the movie. I'm not saying he could have sold this terrible, water-based setting (although I have no doubt he would have made it more fun). Simply, once Reeves bailed on the production, the Fox executives should have set aside their big pile of cocaine and done some serious introspection. An action movie sequel without its action star is hardly a sequel at all, and Speed 2: Cruise Control readily proves that fact.
This movie didn't really damage the careers of anyone involved. Bullock is still and A-lister. Dafoe went on to make a number of movies where he got to be the weird bad guy, proving this movie knew exactly how to use him, at least. Patrick, sure, hasn't been in another movie quite this big, but he has worked steadily ever since. The one person to come out of this clean as a whistle was Reeves, having not starred in this film and then going on to be one of the few bankable movie stars in Hollywood at this point. Maybe fucking off to tool around with your band really is the best career prospect ever. Good call, Keanu.