When Jan de Bont’s Speed 2: Cruise Control was released in 1997, there were only two American critics who gave it positive reviews: Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. The film’s reputation has not improved since then and, in 2010, Empire magazine included it on its list of 50 worst movies ever, alongside the likes of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space and Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Siskel and Ebert aside, it seems, everyone hates Speed 2. But Siskel and Ebert were right.
A rare big-budget action movie that gives a woman top billing, Speed 2 is a perfectly serviceable sequel. Its execrable reputation comes largely from people who take the original Speed too seriously protesting that Speed 2 doesn’t take itself seriously enough.
So poorly was the film received that sitcom writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews, neither of whom had seen Speed 2, challenged themselves to write the Speed 3 episode of Father Ted in an attempt to think up a story “which could be worse than Speed 2”. It features a milk float fitted with a bomb set to detonate if the float goes below four miles per hour. Similarly, an episode of Family Guy features a fictional sequel to Speed 2 titled “Speed 3: Glacier Of Doom”, in which a glacier will explode if it moves slower than one mile per year.
These parodies appear to result from – or perhaps have resulted in – widespread misperceptions about the plot of Speed 2. People who haven’t seen the film in years (or haven’t seen it at all) often believe that, while Speed involves a bomb on a bus that will explode if the bus goes below 50 miles an hour, its sequel involves a bomb on a boat that will explode if the boat dips below a ludicrously slow speed.
But that simply isn’t the story Speed 2 tells. Instead, it concerns a vengeful ex-employee of a cruise line who overrides the autopilot on a cruise ship and programs it to collide with either an oil tanker or a densely populated island pier. There is no speed-sensitive bomb aboard, and the plot is no more absurd than those of innumerable escapist action movies that receive nothing like the scorn heaped upon Speed 2.
One of the most frequent charges brought against the film is that Sandra Bullock’s character, Annie, deserves better than to be relegated to the role of passive hostage while her boyfriend, played by Jason Patric, gets to be the hero. But it isn’t quite right to say that she is. The reason the script has Annie taken hostage by John Geiger (Willem Dafoe) is so that she, the film’s heroine, can have a one-on-one confrontation with its villain – and outwit him. After Geiger abducts her, Annie works out a way to leave him stranded behind her while she zooms off on a jet ski and he wails the intentionally comic line: “Annie! Come back! … You’re my hostage!”
What’s more, at the moment she is taken hostage, Annie cleverly pushes a button that winches her boyfriend and the ship’s first officer up from under the water, thus saving their lives and allowing them to save the lives of every passenger still on the ocean liner. Among those passengers, the most memorable is Drew, a 14-year-old girl played by the deaf actor Christine Firkins. (Having earned a doctorate, Firkins is no longer acting but has become an assistant professor in the department of deaf studies at California State University.)
Disabled people, including me, are still campaigning for disabled actors to be cast as disabled characters now – a quarter of a century after Speed 2 was made – so the movie was admirably progressive for its time. This is something able-bodied critics seldom seem to notice when they trash it.
The film showcases American Sign Language, and shows Drew enjoying music by dancing and hand signing along to a favourite song. Drew’s dancing illuminates something people who can hear often don’t understand: the deep relationship deaf people can have with music. In her few scenes, Firkins gives a more authentic and insightful portrayal of the life of a disabled person than any of the slew of Oscar-winning performances by able-bodied actors playing disabled characters. No film that allows an actress to do that can be truly bad. And it certainly can’t be one of the worst movies ever made.