With some bad movies, you can forgive their badness on the grounds that it might have been hard for the filmmakers to tell, when they first started out, that they were producing something terrible. Maybe the screenplay was actually decent. Maybe it was a risky premise and could go either way in the execution. Maybe they thought casting Michael Caine would smooth out whatever other problems there were. (It didn't work, did it, Jaws 4?)
Then you have something like Speed 2: Cruise Control, where it must have been obvious from day one that no good would come of it. The pitch meeting should have gone like this:
SPEED DIRECTOR JAN DE BONT: OK, it's a sequel to Speed, only instead of being on a bus that can't slow down, it's on a cruise ship that's going 19 miles an hour.
STUDIO: Thank you, next.
Or, more to the point, the pitch should have gone like this:
JAN DE BONT: OK, it's a sequel to Speed --
STUDIO: Thank you, next.
Speed had a terrific basic concept, and the execution was so good that people didn't even realize the male lead was being played by a piece of drywall. To make a sequel, you'd have to do one of two things, neither of which is a good idea:
1. You could put the protagonists in the same situation all over again, which would strain credibility. I mean, how often can two people wind up on a bus that's been rigged to explode if it drops below 55 mph? It's like the old saying goes: "Put me on a bus that's been rigged to explode if it drops below 55 mph once, shame on you. Put me on a bus that's been rigged to explode if it drops below 55 mph twice, shame on me."
2. You could put the protagonists in an entirely different situation, which would beg the question of why you were doing a sequel at all, considering it was the concept that people liked about the first movie, not the characters.
Speed 2: Cruise Control boldly takes option #2 and waters it down even further: While Speed starred Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, the sequel only has Bullock. And you have to ask yourself, how bad does an idea have to be for Keanu Reeves to want no part in it?
(JAN DE BONT: OK, it's a sequel to Speed, only without Keanu Reeves...
STUDIO: Thank you, next.)
The director, Jan De Bont, is a Dutch-born cinematographer who had four dozen films under his belt when he decided, in the early 1990s, that he wanted to direct a movie himself. He made Speed, then went on to make Twister, Speed 2, The Haunting, and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. You might detect an underlying theme of suckiness here. I suspect Speed 2 was the product of his giddiness at having scored such a big success with his very first directorial effort. I can sympathize with his desire to recapture the magic of Speed. However, when he considered the matter and couldn't come up with a good idea for a sequel, that's where he should have stopped. He shouldn't have gone ahead and made the sequel anyway. That's where he loses me.
Speed 2 revives Sandra Bullock's character, the very memorable ... um ... shoot. What's her name? We always just called her "Sandra Bullock" when we talked about Speed. Oh: Annie. Right. Annie. OK, so it's a couple years later, and Annie and Keanu Reeves (whatever his name was) didn't work out, so now she's dating a cop named Alex, played by Jason Patric. Alex told Annie that he was a bicycle cop with a cushy job on the beach, when in fact he's a member of the SWAT team who puts his life on the line every day. Annie is mad about the lying until Alex whips out a pair of cruise tickets. Now everything is all better!
Annie may not have been a sparkling example of modern feminism in Speed, but in Speed 2 she's just a dumb cow. The first time we see her, she's taking her driver's test and blatantly breaking every law in the book, oblivious to her own incompetence. She babbles like a fool to her instructor. Then she's placated by vacation plans. What is this, "The Lockhorns"?
Anyway, Annie and Alex board a Caribbean cruise ship that is almost immediately taken over by a man named Geiger, who is played by a crazy-even-by-Willem-Dafoe-standards Willem Dafoe. Geiger, it seems, designed the computer software that governs this and most other cruise ships, then was fired by his company when he came down with deadly copper poisoning and was no longer able to work. The cruel irony is that he got the copper poisoning from prolonged exposure to the electromagnetic waves emitted by the computers he worked on day in and day out. Because the software company fired him, he is getting revenge by destroying one of the many ships that uses its software. If that seems logical to you, then maybe you also think it's logical that a man can get copper poisoning from sitting at a computer all day.
Geiger's plan is elaborate. I'm actually not entirely sure what his original endgame was, though I admit I wasn't paying very close attention. (Sue me, I was bored.) I know it involved taking over the ship's controls, then using smoke bombs to make the crew think there are small fires everywhere, thus causing the ship to be evacuated. (Did he WANT the ship evacuated? Shouldn't he be trying to increase casualties, not reduce them? What kind of terrorist is he?!) He eventually sets the ship on a collision course with an oil tanker, but I believe that is Plan B, necessitated by Alex's uncanny ability to figure out that something sinister is afoot merely by observing that Geiger has a set of golf clubs yet is uninterested in the golf match on TV. (That's seriously why Alex is suspicious of Geiger. If you ever meet Alex, do not claim to be a golf enthusiast and subsequently fail to be riveted by a televised golf match! He will try to murder you.)
The crisis begins while UB40 is playing some awful reggae music in the ballroom, and people are dancing, or perhaps trying to escape. It is just after dinner. An explosion goes off and knocks everything around. Someone yells, "It's an earthquake!" and someone else yells, "It can't be! We're at sea!" I love that exchange of dialogue. It's indisputably logical, yet at the same time completely stupid. After maybe two hours of crisis managing have passed, Alex and the others emerge from below deck and it is broad daylight. So either the dinner and dancing took place at like 4 a.m., or else the sun rises at midnight in the Caribbean. I would do some Googling to get to the bottom of it, but I'm afraid I'll get Internet poisoning.
Eventually, the problem is that the ship is going to crash into the oil tanker, and no one can control the ship. This is the only thing in the film that is remotely Speed-like, and it's still not very close, mainly because the ship is traveling at 17 knots, which is approximately 19 miles an hour, which is not exactly a breakneck pace.
But the oil tanker collision can only take up a few minutes of the screenplay, so they had to manufacture a bunch of smaller crises to kill time. They're all run-of-the-mill disaster-movie problems, too, like deaf girls trapped in elevators and fat tourists locked in smoky rooms. Alex and Annie react to these crises in their customary fashion, i.e., he helps, she hinders.
At one point, the cruise ship smashes into a marina, and nobody notices the 10-story behemoth until it's right on top of them, because for sure a cruise ship crushing beach-front condos and smaller watercraft would be pretty quiet. During this time, one of the crew members calls out the ship's decreasing velocity: "Eight knots! Seven knots! Six knots!" He does this even though 1.) nobody is around him to hear it, and 2.) each announcement is accompanied by a shot of the ship's speed readout, so we can see for ourselves that it's slowing down. In other words, this character is irrelevant both to his fellow fictional characters AND to the viewer.
I have nothing but contempt for this movie. It is dull, overlong, and punctuated by random bursts of senseless destruction, as if the sight of an oil tanker blowing up would be colorful enough to make viewers believe they'd actually been entertained. Well, it didn't work on me. I knew I hadn't been entertained. I knew it! In fact, I suspected this movie was going to be trouble the moment I heard what it was about. I guess that makes me smarter than the people who made it.
* * * * *
Eric D. Snider (website) can only imagine how much duller it would have been if Keanu hadn't turned it down.