Posted in Film

The Sandra Bullock Files #22: Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)

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The Sandra Bullock Files is a series that looks at the films of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, all the way from her debut in 1987, to her two major 2018 releases, Ocean’s Eight and Bird Box.

Speed 2: Cruise Control is a very bad film. Certainly one of the five worst films Sandra has made in a long, mixed road of a career. Is the 1997 action flop as bad, though, as many of the blockbuster duds that have waded in and out of multiplexes all these years since? Not so much. There’s a certain charm to many of those overdone summer action films of the late 1990s, a sense of fun that seems to have been erased from at least fifty percent of the summer movies we see nowadays. Speed 2 has some of that charm at times, but it remains a major disappointment, mainly because it should have been so much better.

In the summer of 1994, the biggest surprise sensation at nationwide movie theaters was Jan de Bont’s Speed, a rousing, kinetic action yarn that was pushed up from late August to early June to become one of the hugest hits of the year. It made a star out of Sandra, gave Keanu Reeves a jump-start to his leading man career, and allowed cinematographer-turned-director de Bont to become one of the most sought-after filmmakers of his time. The three years that followed were very kind to Sandra, with three more big hits (While You Were Sleeping, The Net, and A Time to Kill). By the time Speed 2 was released, Sandra was a mega-star, a household name, and one of a select few Hollywood actresses who could open a movie based on her name alone.

But then everything came crashing down. If the previous winter’s In Love and War was a disappointing misfire for Sandra, Speed 2: Cruise Control should go down as one of her most fatal career mistakes. Although she bounced back immediately the following year with the underrated Hope Floats, the heavily promoted Speed 2 became so bashed and maligned that by the end of 1997, there might have been some doubt as to whether Sandra could bounce back. After A Time to Kill opened so big, Sandra was on top of the world, and the following year should’ve been her time to star in a project that marked her biggest commercial success yet. Instead she gave us Speed 2. Without Keanu Reeves. Without much… speed.

Sandra told Pete Hammond that she signed on for the project, traveled to the Bahamas, started shooting the movie, and kept asking the director, the producers, anyone who would listen, a pretty obvious question: “Where’s a script? Can I see a script?” And apparently she never saw one, or at least, a full one. Speed 2 does feel rushed and slapped together, like there was never much of a screenplay, but more of an outline.

It’s easy to imagine de Bont (who has a story credit) asking, “What if we opened on an ice cream truck chase?” Let’s be honest — the opening fifteen minutes of the movie is its worst, with an action scene so awkwardly shot and constructed it feels like something from a direct-to-video movie. Worst of all, Sandra’s character Annie, who never really feels like the same character from the first movie, is introduced as not just a bad driver, but literally the world’s worst driver. Her cluelessness is played for laughs, but it all feels forced.

It’s disheartening to think of what could have been, with a better script, with a different local, with Reeves back. It was probably impossible to make a sequel as exciting as the first film, but Speed 2 doesn’t even feel like a continuation. Sandra’s Annie looks and acts different; Reeves is replaced by Jason Patric, a great actor in other production but who is all wrong for this movie and mostly just gives blank looks throughout; the flick is PG-13, not R; and so much of the movie is goofy, versus the more serious nature of the first installment.

Another detriment is that we don’t care about any of the characters on board the Seabourn Legend, while in the original Speed we came to know and love many of the passengers on that doomed bus. There’s one action scene after another in Speed 2, but nothing ever gels, nothing’s ever exciting. Sandra gives a rare annoying performance, Patric is a bore, Willem Dafoe does what he can with a one-dimensional villain role. Very little works.

Having said that, Speed 2: Cruise Control isn’t a complete waste of time. While many of the action scenes ring false, the cruise ship crashing into the oceanfront town still looks awesome. Although there’s probably three too many dumb jokes spread throughout this sequence, it still after all these years looks extremely real. There is the occasional funny line — “What are you gonna do, Annie? Splash water on me?” — and Sandra does have some charming moments, like when she wields a giant chainsaw around, and when she has to remove a grenade from a door. Glenn Plummer returns as Tuneman from the original Speed for the final boat chase, this time as the owner of an expensive boat. Best of all, Mark Mancina’s score, so memorable in the original, is given a Jamaican twist in this sequel, and despite the film’s shortcomings, his score is top-notch. (The music has since been released as a Limited Edition CD that’s well worth picking up.)

Speed 2 opened in June 1997 to disappointing box office and dismal reviews (although the film still ended up making nearly $150 million worldwide, and received two thumbs up from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert). It often pops up on worst-sequels-of-all-time lists and Sandra herself has called the movie “the biggest piece of crap ever made.” Patric went on to have a so-so film career, and de Bont has since disappeared from movie-making.

Sandra was the one major player to salvage her career, but no matter how many Oscars she wins, no matter how many more movies she makes, Speed 2 will haunt her forever. As George Lopez said to Sandra at the 2010 People’s Choice Awards, “You thought she couldn’t top her work in Speed 2!” And then in February 2014, Jay Leno, in his second-to-last night hosting The Tonight Show, asked Sandra, “What about Speed 2? When you did Speed 1, were you automatically assigned to do the sequel?” When Sandra replied, “No,” he said, “So you chose that on your own,” to much audience laughter. The movie’s there. She, and we, can’t deny it. And while we can do our best to avoid it, it will always be there, that ugly little wart on a beautiful woman’s back, a disappointing sequel to a marvelous action epic, what is universally considered Sandra’s worst movie (although she made an even worse sequel eight years later with Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous).

Probably the best thing that came out of Speed 2: Cruise Control was Sandra’s desire after the fact to do better work. Despite much of the mediocrity that came out of her career over the next few years, at least she picked smaller, more intimate projects, and would finally with Crash and The Blind Side find the kind of work she was meant to do. It may have taken another decade or so, but it would be well worth the wait.

Best Scene: The cruise ship crashes into the harbor.

Best Line: “Who’s ready to par-tay on the big boat besides me?”

Fun Facts

Sandra agreed to star in the film to get financing for Hope Floats.

Keanu Reeves turned down the movie to go on tour with his band Dogstar, or so he said at the time. Later on he admitted he just hated the script.

At the end of the movie, when the tanker truck explodes, a cow flies out with the rest of the debris, a reference to Twister.

Sandra’s character Annie from the first film was never given a last name, but in Speed 2, it is revealed to be Porter.

Prior to making the film, Sandra had a fear of water.

The bus that almost hits Sandra’s car in the final scene is numbered 2526. The number of the bus in Speed was 2525.

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