Back in the 1990s, pre-John Wick but post Bill & Ted, Keanu Reeves was already tapped up to be one of the next generation of action stars. As Stallone’s star faded and Arnie moved into politics, a new wave of talent was entering this arena. Reeves made a conscious effort to turn away from this path, but not before starring in one of the defining action movies of the era – Speed.
Jan De Bont’s excellent example of the simplicity and directness required to be successful in this genre still stands up today. Dark Horizons has reported on former Variety writer Kris Tapley and his new podcast titled 50MPH which talks about the making of the movie. Jan de Bont, various writers, actors, and producers all contribute.
One of those writers is Joss Whedon, appearing on the podcast to talk about his contribution. Justified showrunner Graham Yost takes credit for the central concept of the bomb on the bus and created the characters. Whedon was a last-minute script doctor to focus on dialogue: Rumors say he ended up re-writing 90% of the script but lost out on a credit due to a WGA ruling.
Whedon doesn’t cover this, but he does talk about Reeves was responsible for a key realization about his character:
“[Reeves] talked about [doing research for the role by hanging out] with the SWAT guys and how they were unfailingly polite. [He said that] they’re only about defusing the situation, they call everybody ‘sir or ‘ma’am.’ It was like click — that was it. I understand this character now.
My take on it was: He wasn’t a hot shot, he was a lateral thinker. He was going to do what felt right and have an odd approach to it, but generally speaking, it would work out. That ‘sir or ma’am’ gave me so much, because bluster [in action movie heroes] was the order of the day and this was the opposite.
He also said, ‘I don’t want to pull my gun.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t want you to either, but you kind of have to. … [The studio is] not going to let you not pull your gun.’”
It is interesting to see that credit is still claimed for the central concept here. I wonder if anyone will actually acknowledge it is a direct copy of the central concept from The Doomsday Flight? That is a 1966 television thriller film written by Rod Serling and directed by William Graham. The cast includes Jack Lord, Edmond O’Brien, Van Johnson, Katherine Crawford, John Saxon, Richard Carlson and Ed Asner.
That film concerns a bomb placed on an airliner, also by a former employee, that is triggered to explode if the flight goes below 4,000 feet. Gee, sounds familiar!
Anyway, prepare to feel old as f*ck, as next year Speed will be 30 years old.
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