“Why is it such a feeble, aimless piece of junk? ”
Stephen Thompson, AV Club
Few sequels have received as much derision and scorn as the follow up film to the critically acclaimed Speed, aptly named Cruise Control given the tone and style of the motion picture. With a returning director and one of the first films central stars it had the pedigree and potential to continue and expand this franchise beyond the more restricted premise of the first film, indeed in contrast to the original Speed film its sequel had a significantly larger budget to use and honestly, it does show with a more grander and prestigious setting aboard a caribbean cruise ship, a larger and expanded supporting cast and an equally varied range of settings and circumstances for the films stars to overcome and conquer before it reached its conclusion. In short, with the exception of Keanu Reeves who isn’t explicitly known for a wide range of acting expressions and ability the ingredients were present for an accomplished and performing sequel, unfortunately for a myriad of reasons it just didn’t perform or receive the acclaim and praise of the first film and as such is often cited as one of the worse sequels of all time, in my opinion a somewhat harsh label to apply to the title. Unlike other sequels, certainly of the era which opted to pursue a cheap cash in without any returning cast members or original directors, there was a great deal to suggest Speed 2 was going to be a fine addition to the series, and with the original title generating a box office return of just over $350 million certainly the studio had great faith in Jan de Bont to deliver a follow up that would surpass and better his original title. What followed was a critical failure, just breaking even financially and effectively ending the franchise before it could speed any further ahead and yet, it remains and holds a place in our hearts as a guilty pleasure movie, one so enjoyable camp and over the top in its silliness you just have to sit back, take in the scenery and enjoy the film for what it is, an action disaster film in a somewhat unique setting and style that tonally still stands out to more modern standards.
The film begins three years after the first title finds the returning character of Annie, played by Sandra Bullock now no longer with the hero of the first film and surprised to discover her casual boyfriend Alec, a relatively unknown at the time Jason Patrick, is a SWAT team member, causing certain issues to arise given the similarity in profession to her old beau. Feeling angst, Alec decides to make amends and take Annie on a holiday in the Caribbean where his idyllic tropical vacation is spoiled by the arrival of Willem Dafoe’s villain of the film intent on gaining financial recompense for the perceived transgressions of the cruise ship owners and their treatment of him for an illness, in contrast to Dennis Hopper in Speed you never feel Dafoe is actively attempting to murder or kill the passengers aboard the cruise ship which makes an interesting narrative choice. Of course, with an action film of this type whatever the scope of his motivations are fade away as Patrick and Bullock work in tandem to ensure the ship is saved from destruction to the disgust and frustration of Dafoe’s villain, a series of increasingly daring set pieces including a perilous escapade beneath the ship before culminating in the destruction of a paradise town and a finale combining a jet ski, sea plane and an oil tanker. If Speed was a taught, restrained action film, its sequel expanded the notion in every direction, in scope, size and grandeur, and whilst not a critical success certainly wasn’t through lack of resource and effort.
A great deal of the criticism levelled towards the film tends to question the need of its existence, a largely subjective viewpoint but one that arguably does have traction with the first film leaving little room for expansion or exploration of its characters, it told a strict narrative and concluded. Indeed when viewing the second film there is a degree of forlorn pessimism permeating throughout, the couple brought together through adversary and circumstance unable to find commonality and affection beyond the realms of extreme adversity and ultimately parting ways between films which introduces us back to the central heroine, given a more expanded role in the sequel but largely still relying upon the good fortune and intentions of her partner to come through and persevere. Through the prism of modern sensibilities, equality this is not with the film following similar beats of Patrick’s character moving from sequence to sequence to save either the crew or his partner in more outlandish and grandiose events. As the boat crashes into the seaside resort and you find yourself in perilous danger, you do start to wonder whether your partner who is clearly treating you as a ‘rebound guy’, on numerous occasions reveals knows little to anything about what you do or you are and that you were quite happy and content to lie to for long periods is worth the effort of saving. I’m content and willing to root for the underdog couple to pull through and prove there love to each other but this couple, these two people never really feel they are anything more than a girl on a rebound and a guy lying throughout the duration of their relationship to have a good time. She clearly has issues with his chosen career choice, he equally presents a false portrayal of what he does to win bonus points. That the film ends on almost the same beat as the original suggests, history repeating itself and so the motivation to see these two people together is one doomed to failure and the point of the film is made somewhat redundant. I would perhaps talk instead about the supporting cast, but they are a walking tribe of cliched characters its difficult to muster much enthusiasm, as described more eloquently by Hill Place
“I began to notice a cast of supporting characters with potentially complex and nuanced relationships that were buried beneath the awkward action hero posturing of Jason Patric and the atypical whining of Sandra Bullock”
Hill Place Review
As mentioned, I was a fan of the large ensemble disaster movies of the 1970’s, the Poseidon Adventure is a ‘guilty pleasure’ in the strictest sense but in my opinion a genuinely terrific movie with a memorable cast of secondary characters supporting Hackman and Borgnine. Speed, to an extent suffered from a similar issue in terms of its trapped passenger ensemble but was supported with a wider secondary cast in the police force and more focus on Dennis Hopper. Here, the background cast that come forward to prominence aren’t given any real chance to develop. That I recall a bizarre weight loss group that almost comes across as an inside joke for the futility of dieting when gorging on cruise ships, dubious racial and gender stereotypes in the ship’s stewards and crew, and a couple seemingly in a loveless marriage for the sake of their daughter. When Shelley Winters broke down before her death to confide in her husband to persevere to see their grandchildren in Israel or Red Buttons, introduced as a somewhat cliched stereotype in the opening scenes finds growth and a greater importance in life through the trials of his film before escaping the ship you actually cared a great deal for the survivors. One of the dangers of hindsight you do have the chance to compare certain media together, released almost two decades after that disaster movie you have Speed 2 in a similar setting and with none of the emotional connection or growth as witnessed in that disaster movie. Are they a similar genre? its difficult to judge the direction or focus of Speed 2, it flirts with the terrorist action thriller as witnessed in Speed and obviously given the name the connotation is there but the tone and nature of the film does present itself more as a disaster film. Speed had the good fortune to allow focus to shift away from the bus and Hopper to the police investigation in part led by Jeff Daniels and when he is killed towards the end of the film it gives greater motivation for Reeves to overcome the threat. As a disaster film, an ensemble of characters trying to find strength in adversity, unfortunately without any redeemable features or qualities you turn towards your leads and given the state of their damaged questionable characters, Patrick is no Hackman for instance, there is a great deal that just doesn’t work.
One of the great joys and discoveries when I watched this film was the elevation and evolution of the original theme and score, with a returning and expanding orchestral driven soundtrack scribed by the original films Mark Mancina. From the onset, the original Speed had a memorable central theme that played throughout the duration of the film, aged somewhat badly in parts today, the main central score still stands strong, in part today almost 24 years after its original release. I’ll readily admit I will always champion a full orchestral score or the allusion to over more synthetic pieces, certainly, produced and done well they can be impactful but to refer back to the Poseidon Adventure, the musical riffs still hold strong today, the music of Williams, Goldsmith and Horner for instance all hold strong today and showcase the legacy of these composers. I would happily champion the score of this film, perhaps not to the same degree but certainly there is evidence of growth from the first film, perhaps not in isolation but as an orchestral score it does work and hold up. I enjoy the fact it changes to suit the tone and atmosphere of the film, a tropical score as the cruise ship is introduced, the drums playing and guitar in the background, eliciting a sensation of the environment around you. In contrast as the threat introduces itself the tone changes and the familiar beats of the Speed theme echo in the music, expanded upon in some degree, a lesser film or sequel would have perhaps just opted for a central theme or score that plays throughout, Under Siege 2 for the praise I lavished upon its musical score did tend to opt for the main theme in various iterations. Here, there were at least 3 or 4 distinct themes that play over the course of the film depending on the circumstance.
The film looks amazing to witness, taken as a disaster movie as opposed to the action thriller it was perhaps intended and envisioned, the range of environments used and pictured does create a serene environment to live within for a couple of hours. With the opening shots of Los Angeles, I presume, and the chase sequence, as the opening minutes subside and you find yourself on vacation the shot locations do look amazing, perhaps in turn creating one of the issues with the film, its hard to feel tense when you are watching a disaster movie in a tropical paradise. As a setting, a cruise ship is perhaps one of the more questionable or interesting ones, again, should I find myself about a luxurious ship to meet my end of days, I’d probably prefer that over an LA bus in rush hour. One of the slightly subjective points I tend to notice when watching films is the appearance of the actors both in terms of clothes and hair, certain films age badly with their characters presented in a certain way or appearance that dates them. As an aside, military films tend to subvert this by presenting a long held uniform appearance, the characters in Star Trek 2 look more contemporary for example in their uniforms than those found in its sequel in civilian attire. The film exists at that point of time where they still look relatively fresh and unaged, certainly it would be difficult to watch the Poseidon Adventure or indeed any disaster film from that era with the ensemble of characters and not feel you are watching an old film, with Speed 2 given the more contemporary nature there is a certain, resonance and connection with the characters before you, they look like people you may associate with or find in such a location so you can understand and even sympathise with their predicament. I did also enjoy the practical effects nature of the film, opting to pursue model based damage as witnessed with the destruction of the recreated coastal town visually, it does still hold up in parts due to the nature of the practical model shots used. In an era when digital effects were being used more commonly, for example in comparison to Air Force One, a favourite of mine which had an embarrassing final shot of the titular plane crashing into the ocean, you do appreciate the more visceral nature of the destruction of the harbour as the boat crashes through because, a model of the boat was constructed that does quite literally, crash through the assortment of buildings and vehicles in its path. It takes but a second for any sense of immersion to be destroyed when your eye notices a glaring mistake or digital illusion, I’ll always argue puppet Yoda for his imperfections was vastly superior to CGI Yoda bouncing around in the last of the prequel films, perhaps its a dying art, however there is a certain tangible quality in seeing real models on the screen that makes you believe more in the world, for me anyway.
There’s a great deal of criticism that can be levelled towards Speed 2, and perhaps the largest point being it was entirely a needless sequel that objectively, feels at times like a cash in for the studio, perhaps that all it will ever be seen as. The acting quality is sub standard at times, neither Bullock or Patrick appear even remotely interested on occasion, Dafoe is grinning his wildest grin and with a cast of almost completely forgettable background actors you do have room to wonder what was the point of the movie being made. That said, there are redeemable qualities, the production costs and budget were increased and its obvious where this money went, the scenery is fantastic, as a setting its uncommon and certainly inspires parallels to be drawn to that other titan of a disaster movie set at sea although tempered by the fact perhaps if you found yourself in the ocean, it wouldn’t be so bad. The score is evolved and sounds better, it looks better, and for a better writing team it could have actually been something special. It has almost the opposing flaws to my last guilty pleasure review of Under Siege 2 a well funded and designed sequel with a bigger budget, a larger cast, a great soundtrack and returning director but lacking in the finer technical details that stop this being a success. Does it deserve a 4% rating? all I can say is I’ve seen worse films score higher that could do with a little of the sparkle of this tropical disaster film, it’s the definition of a guilty pleasure film then, forget any pretence of a deep and meaningful experience and just enjoy the ride, the sounds, the sights and you may just come away smiling as the final theme kicks in.
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