Next Stop, Action!
Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock take the bus ride of their lives in Speed
by Bob Thompson
NEW YORK - Let me bring you up to Speed - 10 times.
Although the "Die Hard on a bus" tag has dogged the movie from its inception, there were many changes to the screenplay before it hit the screen. And there were many leading men considered.
But it is Keanu Reeves who won the part of a SWAT cop on a rigged L.A. transit bus set to explode if it goes below 50 mph.
Which brings us to:
1. Director Jan De Bont. He's an award-winning Dutch cinematographer. He has been working at his craft for the last 30 years. If you like the look of Paul Veerhoven films, thank De Bont. Dick Donner also prefers his aggressive camera style- Check out Lethal Weapon 3, where the camera is the most exciting thing about the film.
Other impressive credits include Die Hard, Flatliners, The Hunt For Red October, Black Rain and Basic Instinct.
When De Bont, is asked what took him so long to make his directorial debut, he offers an impish smile, then speaks.
"I had, trouble saying no," says De Bont, who admits; he kept accepting cinematography assignments.
And he kept learning. From Donner, he says he borrowed comedy timing within the pace of the action. From Veerhoven it was the knack of storytelling.
"Actually what you learn from working with directors what not to do," he says, although he refuses elaborate specifically.
Generally, he says that he didn't want to overspend. He's proud of the fact that the budget for the movie is near $30 million. He rejected any notion of going after Harrison Ford, Sly Stallone or Arnie Schwarzenegger.
"I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do," he says. And that's make a pure action movie without the drivel buildup and the fake character backgrounds.
De Bont also let Reeves do many of the stunts, "because my style is energetic and documentary."
Reeves did his own stunts? "I'm glad the studio didn't know about it," says the rookie director. "They would've stopped me right away."
Which brings us to :
2. Keanu Reeves. "He's certainly created an enormous buzz in the industry," says producer Mark Gordon. "But he's a little bit of a reluctant movie star."
But he's going to be very much in demand, says Gordon, after Speed hits the screen.
Although Reeves denies it, he already is, thanks to the pre-screening Speed frenzy.
The tide just might be turning toward a Reeves-kind-of-action man.
"I didn't want somebody with giant muscles and a bulging neck. I wanted to show the main character as a vulnerable kind of guy," reports De Bont.
"I think some of the success of Point Break made them think I could do the same for Speed," says Reeves, who enjoyed De Bont's ability to film the action genre but celebrated something else.
"One of the reasons I trusted Jan so much is that he always talked about the humanity of the picture. We even re-shot a few scenes because the emotional aspects were not there."
Which brings us to:
3. Action. It is non-stop, and quick too. The movie barely gives you time to arrange your pop 'n' popcorn before launching into big-ham-boom stuff, De Bont and company go full throttle. Forget about pacing. Yes, there am stunts-o-plenty: Bus-to-car and car-to-bus hopping, huge explosions, bus jumping ('We wanted it to go 40 ft. - it went 97," says De Bont.) and elevator crashing.
The helicopter, a daredevil and a truck of glass sequence was never shot because it turned out to be too expensive. "We went through 14 buses, 200 cars and one plain," says De Bont.
4. They didn't go through any people. "We had safety meetings every day," says the director. "The movie lends itself to accidents. We spent a lot of time making sure nothing happened.'
And it didn't.
5. Sandra Bullock's in the driver's seat. No, Reeves does not take the wheel when he gets aboard the bus. He lets Bullock's character drive the time bomb. "When I got the role I thought, 'Good, I get to sit a lot.'" says Bullock. "After 14 or 16-hour days it was like, 'I'm going crazy here.' There was no bathroom either."
6. The villain, as portrayed by Dennis Hopper, is strictly in it for the money, and more than a little mad that he lost a thumb in the serve-and-protect business. But other than that, all we know for sure is that he's crazy mean.
"We're so pre-conditioned to get a backstory. But you don't get one," Hopper says. "You seem to know the bad guy anyway. The real star of the movie is the action."
Which brings us to four more points to consider:
7. Seagal was never in the running for the Reeves role.
8. You can't hum a tune from the soundtrack.
9. Reeves' character doesn't a) have a fight with his boss; b) tell his boss what to do; c) ignore his boss altogether.
10. The sequel - Speedier maybe - is already at the post-discussion level.