Published June 1, 1997
Speed 2: Cruise Control by Jan De Bont is even more mindless than the first Speed and is perhaps postmodern filmmaking at its most cynical and exploitative. That is to say, there is hardly any attempt to put together a coherent drama which would help us to make some sense of the relentless series of crashes and explosions that the film consists of. A young Californian couple, Alex (Jason Patric) and Annie (Sandra Bullock) go on a Caribbean cruise, and the cruise liner is hijacked by mad computer wizard called Geiger (Willem Dafoe). He has an obscure grievance against the company he used to work for and for which he designed the computer system that now (gasp!) runs the cruise liner — apparently without the possibility of manual override.
Would it surprise you to know that Alex, an L.A. cop on the SWAT team (or “suicide squad” as it is affectionately known), is trying to nerve himself to propose to Annie? Or that she is angry with him for not telling her how dangerous his work is? Would you be astonished to learn that the mad computer wizard has contracted a rare blood disease in the employ of the evil corporation for which he used to design cruise ship computer systems, for which the e.c. promptly fired him, and that now the only relief he can obtain for is illness is by applying leaches to his skin? At any rate, it is certainly not meant to surprise you that the confusingly technical mumbo jumbo used to explain how Geiger single-handedly takes control of the ship, though all but completely meaningless, is instantly understood by the vacationing Californians, neither of whom have any apparent technical training, and used by them to save the ship.
I thought for a moment that there was going to be a good joke or two, and perhaps even a serious point made out of the fact that, when tough-guy Alex steps forward at the beginning of the crisis to volunteer what are to us his self-evidently invaluable services, the crew keep telling him to “go back with the other passengers.” It would have been an original idea to make a point of the officious technocrats continual rejection of superman’s good offices. But no such point is made. Similarly, when Annie at the same point says things like: “No! This is my vacation, damn it,” something might have been made out of her state of denial. “This isn’t happening!” is also overheard. But these just prove to be throwaway lines. Nor are the undoubted talents of Willem Dafoe quite those of that quintessential po mo villain, Dennis Hopper, who camped it up hilariously in the first Speed.
It is a sign of the times that an action-adventure film nowadays suffers quite disastrously from the want of a witty script or funny actors. The postmodern joke made out of the absence from the sequel of the Keanu Reeves character ( “relationships based on extreme circumstances rarely work out” ), since Reeves was unobtainable, is not exactly uproarious either. So there is an attempt to supply the deficit by bracketing the action with scenes of Annie taking and spectacularly failing her driving test with Tim Conway as her terrified examiner. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to put Mr Conway in a movie and not make it appreciably funnier, but somehow Mr De Bont manages the feat
Perhaps the fact that there is hardly a laugh in this picture from beginning to end is a bold experiment designed to try whether the kiddies who watch such stuff do not even require such exiguous wit as is normally supplied with it but will be quite content with nothing but the crashes and explosions. If so, the sales figures so far suggest that the experiment has been a brilliant success. . .