Speed 2: Cruise Control
Screenplay : Randall McCormick and Jeff Nathanson
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Sandra Bullock (Annie Porter), Jason Patric (Alex Shaw), Willem Dafoe (John Geiger), Temuera Morrison (Juliano), Brian McCardie (Merced), Michael G. Hagerty (Harvey), Colleen Camp (Debbie), Lois Chiles (Celeste)
Don't let the movie poster fool you. Even though Sandra Bullock takes top billing and her face is most prominently displayed on the advertisements for "Speed 2: Cruise Control," she spends most of the movie taking a back seat to Jason Patric's action hero, Willem Dafoe's mugging villain, and director Jan De Bont's confusing action and bigger-than-life special effects.
Bullock, who has a sly and wonderful way of bringing wit and charm to every project she's associated with, is relegated to little more than a bystander, unless she's being held hostage, at which time she's relegated to little more than a female victim for the hero to save. I found this very strange, since her Annie character was so effective in the first film, working side by side with Keanu Reeve's character.
Reeves, who was one of the most deadpan action heroes I had ever seen, is actually outdone in his blandness by Patric. Patric's Alex Shaw, a member of the SWAT team's suicide squad and Annie's new boyfriend, is plenty physical when it comes time for the stunts, but in between he's as dull as cardboard. He shows a hint of sweetness in several failed attempts to ask Annie to marry him, but that's the extent of his character development.
The script (written by obvious first-time writers Randall McCormick and Jeff Nathanson from a story idea by McCormick and De Bont) does everything in its power to separate "Speed 2" from its predecessor, which turns out to be the fatal flaw. The action takes place on a luxury, computer-controlled cruise liner in the Caribbean. Things start to go wrong when a computer psycho named John Geiger (overplayed with ludicrous hilarity by Willem Dafoe) comes on board with a golf bag full of bombs and enough computer hardware to rewire the ship and take over its command. His motivation? He's a disgruntled former employee who got copper poisoning while building the ship's computer system, then was gruffly fired and forgotten about. However, just in case simple revenge on his previous employer isn't enough to convince the audience of his insidiousness, the script conveniently includes a couple of million dollars worth of diamonds for him to steal while he's at it.
The trick to "Speed 2" is that it flips the central urgency of the original. In that movie, everyone on an L.A. city bus was going to die if they let the bus stop. In the sequel, everyone on the boat is going to die unless they find a way to make it stop. Before Geiger escapes the ship with Annie as hostage, he steers the boat directly toward an oil tanker, and it's up to Patric, the remnants of the ship's crew, and a few passengers left on board to find a way to avoid collision.
Unfortunately, De Bont was so interested in making "Speed 2" different than "Speed," that he left behind everything that was good about it. As mentioned above, Bullock's character was the life of the first movie, but here she becomes almost secondary. There was a good chance to further develop her likable character, but instead her best lines are reduced to rhapsodizing about her and Alex's confusing relationship.
Another major mis-step is the ship's passengers. The original "Speed" had a busfull of everyday L.A. citizen -- construction workers, secretaries, mothers, tourists, even gang members -- who were interesting and plausible characters that we cared about as the movie progressed. We didn't want to see them die, and that gave edge to all the harrowing, near-death situations. In "Speed 2," there are no secondary characters of any interest, and you really don't care whether they die or not.
After most of the passengers are forced out on lifeboats, we are left with a handfull that includes a club of overweight people calling themselves "Fatbusters" ("Fat is our friend," they happily proclaim while stuffing their faces"), a couple of whiny newlyweds who keep bemoaning, "Why did this have to happen on our honeymoon?," and a nightclub singer whose only line is to inform us that she isn't wearing any underwear. The only ones who get any sympathy are a 14-year-old deaf girl who gets trapped in an elevator and a photographer (Brian McCardie), who turns out to be the only passenger who actually assists in saving the ship, unlike the original, where everyone on the bus worked together.
All of this adds to up the crucial sin of "Speed 2": tedium. Patric's dullness, Bullock's secondary role, and a group of unsympathetic victims result in well designed action sequences that have no punch, and thus no effectiveness. Even in the huge climax where the cruise liner crashes into a port town, ripping out buildings, boats, and killing a few innocent bystanders along the way (rest assured, the dogs lives) gets quickly repetitive. It also begs the question, if Patric was able to steer the boat clear of hitting an oil tanker, why couldn't he just steer it all the way around in a U-turn and avoid the island as well?
©1997 James Kendrick