A modern-day Albert Einstein, in search of a Hollywood metaphor with which to describe one of the basic principles of relativity, might invoke Speed 2: Cruise Control as an example of how faster is sometimes slower. Speed, Jan De Bont’s original 1994 experiment in comparative velocity, riveted viewer attention on the aimless journey of a booby-trapped city bus, rattling along at just over 50 mph — not exactly warp speed. Yet the innovative, well-defined, pared-down story elements, coupled with De Bont’s efficient expression of visual energy, stripped the genre to its most elemental components, and made Speed actually feel speedy.
Cruise Control, in contrast, kick-starts with a motorcycle chase scene, backed by industrial-strength pulsing music and attention-deficit-disorder editing. And the thing doesn’t let up for another two hours, during which the action switches to a booby-trapped cruise ship, a speedboat, and a seaplane. Lights flash with strobelike intensity. Images crash and tumble aggressively, daring the eye to take a break. The English Patient‘s Willem Dafoe, as an ailing, pop-eyed, psychopathic computer genius and former cruise ship employee who wants to blow the floating baby to smithereens simply because he’s really mad that the bosses fired him when he got sick, cackles maniacally and fiddles with bomb settings. Yet Speed 2 is as slow-moving as a garbage scow. Those blinking lights might as well be emanating from a vital-signs monitor. The story is dead in the water.
In fact, it’s a complete lack of story that explains why this expensive production from the proficient creator of Speed and Twister sputters out on the high seas. It’s not enough to posit Annie (Sandra Bullock, reprising her role as an excitable, resourceful gal) and her second short-haired, daredevil-cop boyfriend (Jason Patric, perfunctorily filling the emotion-challenged slot vacated by Keanu Reeves) on a cruise ship and have their vacation dissolve into mayhem. It’s not enough to stick a nutcase on board and intercut his nefarious moves with shots of cliched, hapless passengers (the little deaf girl, the table full of fat people, the honeymooners, etc.). Satisfying movies are not a matter of story ”beats.” Character counts.
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah as Bullock can be, and frightening as Dafoe’s facial contortions can look, they might as well be on the Titanic, for all we care about them. (Bruce Willis in Die Hard we root for; Bullock’s Annie could as easily bite the dust as live on.) Cruise Control is so lazy, or perhaps so blinkered in its belief that movies can be pasted together in the editing room, that its madman doesn’t even make a demand. He doesn’t want anything. He just wants maximum destruction.
Three years after Speed, Cruise Control is scientific proof, if unfortunate proof is required, that even audiences willing to attend loud, tinny, seasonal action movies need something — something — to cheer for besides special effects. As Einstein pointed out, two hours in a movie theater can feel like eternity if you’re going nowhere fast. D+