Jason Patric replaces Keanu Reeves

Pop quiz: Your $12 million action superstar decides to get off the bus-with-the-bomb and go tour on the bus-with-the-band. What do you do? Fox figured it out in record Speed last week: Put Keanu Reeves in the rearview mirror and cast Jason Patric in Speed 2…. Jason Patric?!

Even in Hollywood, where Patric is as famous for his anti-superstar stance as he is for his protracted courtship of Julia Roberts, selecting him for the summer-of-’97 sequel seemed a little back-of-the-bus. Especially when you consider that Christian Slater and man-of-the-moment Matt McConaughey (A Time to Kill) were among those bandied about as Reeves’ replacement.

But there are plenty of reasons why Patric, who Fox insists was the only actor offered the role, received the ticket to ride. First off, the early buzz on his next film, Sleepers, costarring Brad Pitt, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert De Niro is extremely positive. Secondly, there’s the Jan De Bont factor. Despite his toxic reputation, the director does have a way of identifying talent — be it Twister‘s Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt or Sandra Bullock and Keanu in Speed. ”Jason was Jan’s choice, and we all agreed with him,” says Bill Mechanic, Fox’s president and COO. ”He’s a guy who hasn’t really happened but who has it in him.”

Not that Fox thinks Speed 2‘s success rests with the actor in the driver’s seat. ”One of the things that came out of Speed was that the movie, as put together by the director, was a star itself,” says Fox senior exec VP Tom Sherak. ”With [De Bont’s] track record, I’ll go with what he thinks.” As Patric’s grandfather Jackie Gleason might say, ”And away we go.”