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Friday, June 10, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Warning: `Speed' Thrills

Movie review

XXX "Speed," with Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels, and Sandra Bullock. Directed by Jan De Bont, from a screenplay by Graham Yost. Crossroads, Everett 9, Factoria, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kent, Kirkland Parkplace, Mountlake 9, Oak Tree, Parkway Plaza, Puget Park drive-in, SeaTac Mall, SeaTac North, Uptown, Valley drive-in. "R" - Restricted because of violence, profanity. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Watching "Speed" may pose a threat to viewers prone to excess stress, cardiac arrhythmia, motion sickness, respiratory ailments or any aversion to sheer velocity. Proceed with caution, and by all means . . . buckle up and drive safely.

You won't find this disclaimer at the beginning of "Speed," so it's provided here as a public service. A roller coaster, steamroller and juggernaut all rolled into one, "Speed" is everything its title suggests, and Twentieth Century Fox knew they had a hit on their hands when they shifted the movie's release from August to the prime slot of post-"Flintstones" doldrums. A riotously enjoyable locomotive of action, "Speed" is driven by a premise of such crystalline purity that its ridiculousness becomes part of the fun.

The plot is almost galling in its hyperkinetic simplicity. When a mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) threatens to wreak death and mayhem in the elevator of a Los Angeles skyscraper, he's handily foiled by a hotshot cop on the SWAT detail (Keanu Reeves) whose fearless antics are well matched with the more sensible approach of his partner (Jeff Daniels).

Demanding a huge sum of unmarked cash, the anonymous psycho retaliates against Reeves by rigging a remote-controlled bomb on an L.A. bus, setting the bomb to arm when the bus reaches 50 mph, and then explode if it slows below 50 mph. Shifting into high-gear heroics, Reeves boards the loaded bus, replaces the wounded driver with a sarcastic beauty (Sandra Bullock) who's had her driver's license revoked, and calms the nerves of passengers as the bus careens through the L.A. streets and freeways.

While Daniels traces the bomber's identity from police headquarters, "Speed" gathers unstoppable momentum with a series of crises, culminating on L.A.'s new Metrorail subway - the third in a dazzling trio of extended action sequences.

It's an outrageously ludicrous scenario, but "Speed" operates on its own acceptable logic, making it easy to ignore the fact that the steely-nerved Reeves (looking trimly buff after his "Little Buddha" weight loss) is too young to be a seasoned cop, or that the lovely Bullock barely breaks a sweat as she jokingly steers with death-defying skill.

After honing his slick style on such hits as "Die Hard" and "Basic Instinct," Dutch cinematographer Jan De Bont makes such a confident directorial debut that you can never catch your breath long enough to analyze - or even care about - the glitches in first-time writer Graham Yost's cleverly complicated screenplay. In one swift stroke, De Bont and Yost are certified hot properties.

With relentless action the priority, there's not much room for depth of character, but the stars and passengers of "Speed" achieve enough dimension to make this more than a one-note blockbuster, and although he's stuck in a familiar mode, Hopper lets rip with enough scene-stealing villainy to make you eager for his cathartic comeuppance.

Ultimately, "Speed" is fast enough to make a lasting psychic impression. Just as "The Blue Danube Waltz" will always conjure spaceships for fans of "2001," you'll never look at a bus the same way again after taking this frantic ride.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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