There’s a memorable moment in Jurassic Park where Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm cautions “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” While he was talking about genetic tampering, his warning could be applied to the creation of unneccessary sequels. Indeed, it was a warning that the creators of Speed 2: Cruise Control should have heeded, for this sequel to Speed, full of explosions and frantic action, seems to be an exercise of destruction for destruction’s sake. It is exactly the type of movie that gives a bad name to sequels.
For starters, the film has only the thinnest connection to the first film. A disgruntled ex-employee decides to get back at the world and make a few bucks by sabotaging a vehicle, which happens to be carrying Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock), the bad driver from the first film. This time, the vehicle is a cruise ship instead of a city bus, and the saboteur tries to destroy it by ramming it into things, rather than with a mere bomb.
The character of Annie, sketchy in the first film, is more heavily elaborated in this one. To be honest, it doesn’t make that much of a difference, and you could hardly care less about her. Not only does Bullock play her character with a peppy whine, but using her as the link between the two films is quite a stretch. As a civilian, she’s got to be pretty unlucky to run across two vehicle-obsessed madmen. But, this time, she’s got nothing to do. At least in the original Speed, she got to drive a bus. Here, in order to keep her character in the action, you can feel the writers scraping the bottom of the well of ideas. (“Hmmm…let’s give Annie a chainsaw.”)
Stepping in for Keanu Reeves as the bland one-man SWAT team (now named Alex Shaw) is Jason Patric. Remove the name and a couple of one-liners at the beginning, and you can obviously see that the role was written for Keanu (until he wisely stepped out). We are introduced to Alex in the middle of a high speed chase. The reason for the pursuit is never stated; the fleeing truck may have failed to signal on a right turn for all we know. But the idea is to introduce Alex as a risk taker, who will do anything to catch the bad guy.
The main bad guy in Speed 2 is John Geiger (Willem Dafoe). We know he’s crazy because he bugs his eyes out a lot, makes funny faces, and uses leeches to suck the copper from his blood. By the way, he designed the software that controls the cruise ship, and was laid off by the software designer when his terminal blood disease was discovered. Now he seeks to gain revenge by destroying a cruise ship, but he doesn’t count on passengers Alex and Annie.
The setup of the film is slow and laborious, getting us used to the idea of Alex and Annie as a bickering couple on the verge of a lasting commitment. Of course, the film also has to showcase its colorful menagerie of supporting characters. This time the assortment is much more irritating than the bus passengers in Speed. There’s the quaint fat couple, the curious deaf girl, and, of course, the annoyingly stubborn crewmen, who refuse help when it is obvious they need it. I say, let Geiger blow up the ship.
But things aren’t that easy. After Geiger’s hostile takeover, the film settles into the pacing of a routine, dull action film. There are no spectacular stunts, no thrilling sequences…just: implausible setup, solution, repeat. In case some of the action might go over the head of the audience, several characters helpfully narrate the obvious events. This goes on for a while until director Jan De Bont decides to go all the way, tossing subtlety out the window, and stages one of the most ridiculous (and drawn out) action film conclusions in years.
Jan De Bont never manages to capture the thrills present in his earlier films (Speed and Twister), instead merely relying on special effects to deliver the goods. They don’t. By the time those FX dollars start to show on screen, we just don’t care anymore. It has become the norm for summer blockbusters to have awe-inspiring effects, and you can find effects just as good or better by randomly picking another event film. If you just have to have that Sandra Bullock fix, rent the original Speed, and pretend the bus is out at sea. You’ll be more entertained than watching Speed 2.