Film Retrospect - Summer of '97: Speed 2: Cruise Control
by Barry Wurst
July 7, 2007
The problem with failed sequels is that a) they kill a potentially lucrative franchise and end a successful run for their studios and, most importantly, b) they hinder your fond memories of the original. Many critics griped about the sequels to Chinatown, Terms of Endearment and The Last Picture Show, saying that they (being The Two Jakes, The Evening Star and Texasville respectfully) came too late, weren't as good as the originals and were uninspired. I liked all three films for very different reasons, but the criticisms made toward them were valid and their disastrous runs at the box office hurt audiences overall view of them. With Speed 2: Cruise Control, things looked odd from the get go.
Director Jan de Bont, at the time one of the biggest action movie directors in the world (thanks to Speed and Twister), was back on board, as was Sandra Bullock (who, thanks to Speed, The Net and While You Were Sleeping, became a major movie star). Keanu Reeves read the script and turned it down, passing on an enormous paycheck. Jason Patric, a terrific actor but not an obvious choice for an action movie lead, took Reeves' spot and Dennis Hopper (who was decapitated in the first movie) had Willem Dafoe fill in for bad guy duty the second time around. It goes without saying that things didn't go well for this production, but back to Reeves: the only thing he has publicly said about passing on Speed 2 was: "You mean, SPEEDIER? Its not and I'm not". He walked away from a fortune (Fox was willing to pay him $11 million), toured with Dogstar (his band) and gave a critically acclaimed performance as Hamlet in a Canadian production. Hollywood insiders and agents thought he was nuts for passing on Speed 2. Meanwhile, Bullock chose to do Speed 2, and passed on playing the lead in Titanic. The suits at 20th Century Fox greenlit the premise of an out-of-control ocean liner, a concept that wasn't nearly as exciting as a bus that couldn't go under 50 miles an hour and was rigged with a bomb.
Speed 2: Cruise Control is still worthy of note because, at the time, it was the most expensive film ever made centering on a female character. The sequels to Charlie's Angels and Tomb Raider have since surpassed this claim, but at (an unconfirmed but rumored) $130 million, Speed 2 was a BIG movie for Fox… and a big disaster.
Like many high profile summer movies, it dropped like a stone after a strong #1 opening and became a summer-long punch line. What works: Patric is a better actor than Reeves and asserts himself well (though this kind of movie is clearly not his forte), Dafoe brings a lot to his absurd role (watch him put leeches on himself… for health reasons!), a handful of the action scenes are exciting and the movie is often fun and energetic. What doesn't work at all: Bullock, who stole the original, is shrill and annoying this round, some of the bigger sequences are clunkers (like a long, life raft rescue), the dialogue is quite dumb, the story offers no logic and the wrap-around sequence where Bullock takes driving lessons from Tim Conway (funny in the trailer, ill-advised in the movie) is really bad.
Whereas Speed was a souped-up B-movie, made with skill and propelled with Indiana Jones exuberance, Speed 2, while a guilty pleasure at times, is mostly overblown. The embarrassment of its brief run hurt everyone involved: Bullock watched as the other boat movie she passed on became the biggest hit of all time, Patric's getting-hotter career (on a roll after Sleepers) cooled considerably after this, De Bont (who went on to make The Haunting and Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) had to deal with a monster flop staining his resume and Fox scrapped all future sequel concepts (no out of control grocery carts, skateboards or go-carts in Speed 6). The one who walked away unscathed: Keanu Reeves, who won acclaim for co-starring with Al Pacino in Devil's Advocate later that year and then signed on to do some sci-fi movie called The Matrix.