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September 22, 2014

Slaughter Film Presents: Action Movie Time Machine – Speed


The year is 1994. Teenagers around the world mourned for the loss of Kurt Cobain. “Forest Gump”, “The Lion King” and “Pulp Fiction” all shared the silver screen together and Sony released the Playstation, revolutionizing the way future games would be published. Also a bus was fitted with a bomb and used to terrorize L.A. commuters in “Speed”.
In 1997 “The Simpsons” parodied the title “Speed” in the episode “The Springfield Files” in which Homer says; “I saw this in a movie about a bus that had to speed around the city, keeping its speed over fifty, and if its speed dropped, the bus would explode! I think it was called “The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down”. There is never a bad time to quote The Simpsons.
The film begins with Los Angeles police officer Jack Traven, Keanu Reeves,and his partner Harry Temple, Jeff Daniels, as they respond to a call that there has been an explosion inside an elevator shaft of a down town office building. The bomber is demanding a ransom of three million dollars be paid or he will trigger an explosion – cutting the elevators cables – in turn killing the people on the elevator.
Suspecting that the bomber isn’t playing fair, Jack thinks up a plan to remove the hostages from the equation involving a rooftop crane that he uses to help support the weight of the elevator. Howard Payne, the bomber played by Dennis Hopper, is the type of guy who is very meticulous and always seems to be one step ahead of the game. Payne happens to be keeping a close watch over the elevator to make sure he has the upper hand. Hidden on another elevator and listening in via a microphone, Payne catches wind that police are up to something so he decides to blow elevator anyhow and get the hell outta there.
Jack now suspects that the bomber is near by. He and Harry search the fraught elevators and eventually find Payne. Again Payne has a backup plan. Rather than be arrested and spend his last few years in a jail cell, he blows himself up with a suicide vest. This is one of my favorite scenes of the film.

Days later Jack has a run in with Payne who, surprise, is still alive and pissed. The three million dollars was going to be Payne’s retirement nest egg and now he wants revenge against Jack. He calls Jack on the phone and informs him that somewhere in L.A. there is a bus fitted with a bomb. If it’s passengers are going to survive Jack will have to located it and get aboard. But there are rules ya see… First, no one is allowed off the bus. Second, once the bus reaches fifty miles per hour it must continue at that speed or it will explode.
For the next hour of the film Jack, now on the bus, tries his best to navigate the busy L.A. streets while keeping the bus above fifty miles per hour and trying to think of a plan to get the passengers to safety. Jan de Bont does a hell of a job directing because, as simple as this concept is, it never gets boring. In fact it’s relentless. There is enough going on to keep the viewer interested and enough suspense to keep them on the edge of there seat. In this time Jack tries to unload the passengers, disarm the bomb, fist fight frantic passengers and even ramp the bus, I’m not even joking, over a fifty foot gap in an overpass that is under construction. Of course this is the doing of young Annie Porter, Sandra Bullock, who has been volunteered to drive while Jack does a little bit of this and that.
Jack struggles to understand how Payne knows what is going on in the bus at all times. The police close off air space around the bus from news choppers, but that doesn’t help. Finally Jack gets the upper hand when he realizes that the safety cam located at the front of the bus is transmitting a to an undisclosed location where Payne has been watching this whole time. Jack has his tech savvy police pals record and transmit footage in a loop so Payne is unaware that the passengers are being evacuated.
Meanwhile, Harry is doing his best to track down Payne, who it turns out is a former police officer who worked in the bomb squad. Payne was forced into retirement after blowing off his thumb. Payne risked his life for years doing a dangerous job and in return all he got was a lousy gold watch as a retirement gift. This is the heart of Paynes motivation.
With the passengers safe the film becomes a man hunt for Payne which leads into the busy L.A. subways with Annie as a hostage and Jack in hot pursuit. This leads to a fistfight on top of a runaway subway car. As Jack and Payne tussle around, Jack eliminates Payne by decapitating him against a light mounted to the ceiling of the subway. The car crashes and Jack and Annie emerge unscathed and fall in love. The End.
“Speed” was a HUGE success in 1994. This movie was the only thing people talked about that entire summer. The idea of putting a bomb on a bus, triggered by it’s speed, was just so simple and yet tremendously effective. It essentially turned two thirds of the film into a high speed chase.
Beyond that, “Speed” is a chess match between Payne and Jack. Which spaces can they occupy without losing anything and how they can get the other guy to fall on the spaces that will do the them in. It’s about leverage.
Speaking of leverage, this reminds me of my favorite scenes in “Speed” and one of my all time favorite scenes in all of action movies. The one in which Jack shoots Harry. Early on, after the people are rescued from the elevator, Jack and Harry track down Payne somewhere else inside the building. Payne gets the drop on Harry and tried to use him as a temporary hostage in an escape attempt. So what does Jack do? Lay down his weapon and allow Payne to escape? Raise his weapon and blow Payne away? Nah! Instead he shoots Jack in the leg. The idea being that if a cop is willing to shoot the hostage, the hostage taker no longer has any leverage. Brilliant! This may have been the first time a movie taught me how to think outside the box and I will never forget it.
Over all this movie holds up, but there are a few areas were the film is lacking.
First the bus ramp scene. I don’t give a shit in what kind of “in a perfect world” scenario we’re talkin’ here, that WOULD NEVER HAPPEN!
Second, when Jack and Annie finally escape the bus, it continues to drive unattended as it loses speed and eventually explodes. The thing is, it explodes just as it collides with an airliner on the runway of L.A.X. So Jack saved the lives of eight or ten people on the bus, but what about the passengers on the airplane?! I assume it was empty, but WHAT THE FUCK?!
Hmmm, the movie begins with a bus that drives into an airplane, and ends in the subway. This movie could have been called “Planes, Trains & Automobiles”.
“Speed” is one of those movies that, over time, you’ll only remember the tropes that were so often parodied when it was released, but when you sit down and re-watch it, it will remind you just how good it is. Check it out!
Of course this was followed by “Speed 2”. A movie about a boat… and no one seemed to give a shit. Maybe sometime we’ll visit action movie sequels that fell flat. If so, We’ll start there.
I’m Cory Carr and this concludes our ride on the “Action Movie Time Machine”. Until next time, Semper Fi!
For more from Cory, check out his website, where he and his good friend Forest Taylor record weekly podcasts, reviewing the films that are legendary, even in Hell!
September 15, 2014

Slaughter Film Presents: Action Movie Time Machine – Point Break

Now that my love letter to John Carpenter has come to a close, I was unsure what film, or group of films I should visit next. Should I board the “Action Movie Time Machine” and venture to the ‘80s to track down ol’ Chuck, finally, or maybe the ‘70s for “Dirty Hairy“? Then it dawned on me. Not to long ago I sat down with a few friends to watched “Point Break”. They wouldn’t shut up about how great it was. I hadn’t seen it before, but it was a film who’s reputation I was familiar. A gang of presidential mask wearing bank robbers gain a reputation for their handy work while surfing between jobs. Oh, and Nick Frost’s character, Danny Butterman, absolutely LOVES “Point Break” in “Hot Fuzz”. Well I guess If I wasn’t interested before, I now have my seal of approval. In short, I watched it and liked it, so “Point Break” it is.
The year is 1991. Paul Reubens, Pee-Wee Herman, was arrested for masturbating in an adult movie theater. Accusations of sex abuse and steroid use drew all kinds of heat on to Hulk Hogan and the WWF. All this and Keanu  Reeves learns to surf.
The film begins with Special Agent Johnny Utah, Keanu Reeves, who has recently graduated from the FBI academy and been assigned to work band robbery detail in southern California. Upon his arrival he is partnered up with veteran agent Pappas, Gary Busey. Pappas is one of the older members of the team. He’s seen and heard it all, and as a result he’s both jaded by his job, and regarded as a bit of a nut by his co-workers.
Together the new partners pick up where Pappas left off on a case involving a group of bank robbers who go by the “Ex-Presidents”. They call themselves this because they chose to wear presidential masks during their heists. There’s a Nixon, Carter, Johnson, and Reagan. If you were ever confused by some joke or parody from the ‘90s that involved a mask of a president, this movie is it’s inspiration.
The Ex-Presidents have acquired quite the reputation for being professional. No one is ever injured, they only take what money is in the teller drawers and they are in and out in ninety seconds. They leave no clues and few witnesses, and have successfully robbed twenty-seven banks in three years. The only info that Pappas has been able to assemble about they group is that they may be surfers. A security camera caught one of the Ex-Presidents mooning, which revealed a tan line. Later trace elements of wax was in a footprint left by of the robbers and may be board wax. And finally, the Ex-Presidents only rob during the summer months, when the waves are the best for surfing.

For this thin but compelling theory Pappas’ co-workers give him shit. To them, Pappas might as well be talking about the Kennedy assassination or aliens or something. But Utah is convinced. The two devise a plan to send Utah undercover and into the ocean. He will learn to surf and in doing so he will make surfer friends who he will, hopefully, get some hot information out of. This plan works pretty good, if you overlook almost drowning and getting his ass handed to him time and time again by other more experienced surfers.
Soon Utah meets Tyler, Lori Petty, a tough surfer chick who agrees to show him the surfing ropes and later they fall in love. Tyler becomes Utah’s window into the local surf community and introduces him to Bodhi, Patrick Swayze. Bodhi is a bit of a local surfing guru. He has a crew of young men and women who cling to his devil may care lifestyle. Bodhi isn’t just some thrill seeking adrenaline junkie, which he is, he is someone who has a rich understanding of what being alive truly is and how everyone should push the boundaries to better live their lives and experience freedom. There is a moment in the film when Bodhi reminds his crew just why they took on this lifestyle by saying; “This was about us against the system. That system that kills the human spirit. We stand for something. We are here to show those guys that are inching their way on the freeways in their metal coffins that the human spirit is still alive.”

As Utah starts surfing more with Bodhi and his crew, he begins to understand the more spiritual connection the guys have developed with each other, as well as nature (the surf) and thrill seeking. Bohdi gets Utah to open up and in turn gains his trust and later mutual respect and admiration. This friendship later gets between Utah and his duty when he makes the discovery that Bodhi and company are in fact the Ex-President, and now he has to bring ‘em in.
A lot happens between the middle and end of the film, none of which is bad, but I feel obligated to skip over some so I don’t get too carried away with this synopsis. Consider it self-censorship to prevent spoiling plot. However, I do feel compelled to mention the often referenced “scream while shooting in the air” scene made popular by “Hot Fuzz“. Utah can’t yet prove anything but suspects Bodhi is involved with the robberies. Well one day Utah happens to cross paths with the Ex-Presidents while they are knocking over another bank. This leads to a foot chase. Utah follows Reagan/Bodhi down a hill and blows out his knee in the process, which is an existing high school football injury. Utah can’t follow any further. He pulls his gun and takes aim, but the idea that he may be shooting his friend is too much for him to handle. Instead Utah lets out a scream and unloads his gun into the air. It’s a little goofy, but it illustrates just how much he respects Bodhi.
As the chase drags on, Utah gets close to capturing Bodhi. He finds himself on a plane flying over Mexico and Bodhi has just jumped from the plane in an escape attempt. To catch Bodhi, Utah follows him. He screams “Fuck it!“ and jumps from the plane. Without a parachute… WITHOUT A FUCKING PARACHUTE! The first time I saw this I was genuinely, “What the fuck?!”, surprised. Utah manages to float down to Bodhi, pull his parachute cord and hang on for dear life until they reach the surface of the Earth. Upon landing, Utah blows out his knee, again, and he can’t continue the chase.
Over the next few years Bodhi continues robbing banks in several different countries to afford his freedom seeking surfer lifestyle. Consider these crimes bread crumbs and Utah follows his trail all the way down to Australia. Australia is known for it’s ideal surfing coasts, not to mention there happens to be a ”Fifty Year Storm” approaching. One that is guaranteed to make the most hardened surfers wet in their pants and Utah knows Bodhi will be there. 
When Utah finds Bodhi on the beach they have words and then they have fists. As the local police move into position, surrounding Bodhi, Bodhi begins pleading with Utah — telling him that he won’t make it in prison without his freedom. Utah grants him his freedom, temporarily, to catch a ride on one of the death defying fifty foot waves. After all it’s a once in a life time event, and as a friend, he understands just how much it will mean to him. As Bodhi paddles out into the waves, Utah quietly walks back to his car. Utah overhears a police officer say; “Okay, we‘ll catch him when he comes back in”, to which Utah replies “He‘s not coming back“. The End.
What makes this film great and highly recommended to both action movie fans as well as people who typically thumb their nose at action movies, is that there is more here than just car chases and gun fights. “Point Break” is a hidden gem within the vast wasteland that is action cinema.
It is wonderfully directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker &Strange Days, who, in my opinion, perfectly captures the beauty, freedom and danger of the surf and skydiving. Not to mention, she was able to weave the Utah/Bodhi friendship in just the right way, allowing it to become the focal point of the film. Similar to “Heat”, “Point Break” becomes more about the relationship between the cop and robber, than the actual crimes themselves.
Utah and Bodhi develop a bit of a bro-mance. They each appreciate the others freedom seeking nature and grow to admire each other, which later becomes the center of the films conflict. Utah is forced to hunt down his best friend and Bodhi is driven to break his own personal rules and even kill in order to ensure his escape. In fact Bodhi is even willing to die then be locked up. I can’t speak for everyone, but I was buyin’ what both of these guys were sellin’.
On a similar note, Bodhi is a total bad-ass with an existential life philosophy. Hmm sounds a lot like Swayze’s character from “Roadhouse”. Another action movie must see, if I do say so myself.
The only negatives I found in this film is its goofy surfer lingo and the acting. Not all of the acting, but there are a few deliveries Reeves gives that are less than what they should be. But hell, people have been saying that about his acting for years. On the other hand, Busey’s intense over acting, no matter how wild, is just great.
If you‘re willing to overlook its flaws, you will see that “Point Break” is a great film, let alone great action film.
I’m Cory Carr and this concludes our ride on the “Action Movie Time Machine”. And remember, freedom isn’t free. Semper Fi!
For more from Cory, check out his website, where he and his good friend Forest Taylor record weekly podcasts, reviewing the films that are legendary, even in Hell!
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