50,000 Tons Of Steel
Carrying 500 Hostages
Is Headed For Disaster...

What Do You Do?

Read on to find out.

We start out with a long and pointless chase sequence, somewhere in the greater LA area. I suspect it was there because the director couldn't figure out how to put a car chase on a ship, and this movie needed a car chase. Since it adds nothing to the characterization and plot, and it isn't a great car chase anyway, you can spend a few extra minutes at the candy counter and not miss a thing.

At this moment, Annie [the Sandra Bullock character] from the original SPEED (which unlike this bomb had a tightly crafted plot), is taking her driving test, also in Greater LA.

As we recall from SPEED, ol' Annie had lost her license due to speeding. She drove the bus, however, with skill, panache, and expertise.

In this bomb, however, her driver's test makes Cher [the Alicia Silverstone character] from CLUELESS look like Mario Andretti. This is the comedy relief, I guess. It also makes our heroine look like a ditz.

Here's an important tip for action directors: before you go into the car chase sequence, make sure that the audience knows whether the good guy is the chaser or the chasee. It might also be a clever plan to make sure the audience knows why they're having a chase at all. Does the chaser need to deliver atomic bomb secrets? Did the chasee fail to yield in a crosswalk? Predictably, Annie arrives at the scene of the end of the chase, just in time to learn that her boyfriend is the chaser, and that he's on the SWAT team. This looks exactly like an action-movie meet-cute, and it would be, except we learn in dialog that these two have been together for seven months.

Annie's upset. She'd dumped her last boyfriend, Jack [the Keneau Reeves character] from the original SPEED, because he was always taking risks, see. A better guess would be that Jack saw the screenplay and said, "I know I'm on the bomb squad, but this is a bigger bomb than I can handle," and bailed. The new guy, Alex [played by Jason Patric as if he were a park bench auditioning for a role as a cigar store Indian] told her that he was on the Venice Beach Bicycle Patrol, and now she finds out that he's a risk taker too!

"Relationships based on extreme circumstances never last," Annie says, quoting from the original SPEED. The fact that Alex has been deliberately lying to her for the past seven months never seems to cross her mind, or his mind, or the writers' minds. I don't know about extreme circumstances, but let me tell you, relationships based on lies have a really rotten track record.

Well, to patch things up, Alex whips out a plane ticket. And I said to myself, "Riiiiight. This guy is going to get involved in a motorcycle chase with a couple of thousand bucks worth of plane ticket in his back pocket, on the off chance that he'll run into his girlfriend and need to patch things up?" Out here in reality, that plane ticket would be locked in his desk, or back at his apartment. And he'd bring it out after a nice dinner, all crisp and new, not crumpled, dirty, and sweatstained. But she goes for it anyway.

A quick cut later, and our hero and heroine are on a cruise ship in the Carribean. They haven't been on board that ship for more than a couple of minutes before we see Geiger [played by Willem Dafoe]. From the fact that he has long, messy hair, the fact that he has more teeth than most human beings and shows them all when he smiles, and the fact that he cackles when he laughs, you can tell he's the bad guy. From the fact that there are toothmarks on the scenery for twenty feet in all directions, you can tell that he's doing the best he can with the script.

Well, after this, we get fun-filled scenes of happy times aboard this cruise ship. These seem to consist of too many people in too small a space, with tacky decor, and lounge singers. It all makes a cruise on this ship seem like something that Dante came up with, and not for his Paradisio, either.

Anyway, if I were going to spend seven days with ol' Annie in a place with a bed and excellent room service, I'd spend that week [insert very bad word here] her brains out. Not that she seems to have that many to spare. But not our boy Alex. He goes out to shoot skeet.

Among the other cardboard characters populating this ship, we find an Amazingly Cute Little Deaf Girl, and a tour group of people who Love Being Fat. There are also some diamond merchants who have a whole bunch of diamonds in the ship's safe.

Alex does have a problem, though. He wants to propose to Annie. In the nearest thing to characterization we get, he keeps slipping the ring box in and out of his pocket throughout the flick. In an amazing display of muscle control, he keeps his jaw clenched to the exact same angle every time he does so.

Here's a tip for Alex. A little tactical planning. If you propose to her on the first day of the cruise, and she says no, the rest of the cruise will be the only thing that sucks, if you catch my drift. If you propose on the last day, she might look at the crumpled, sweat-stained sheets, say, scathingly, "What was this, an audition?" and the trip back across country in the enforced intimacy of adjacent airline seats will be very unpleasant indeed. If you propose on arrival back home, she'll be so tired and cranky that she'll bite your head off. Better to wait two or three weeks after the trip to propose.

Anyway: remember Geiger? He's smuggled bombs on board disguised as golf balls and golf clubs. Now he sets about his nefarious plans.

Exactly why he's doing what he's doing is never made clear. Either it's because he's a True Nut (after all, he cackles a lot, and sticks leeches to his body) upset about his retirement package (in other words, motivation ripped off from SPEED), or he's a clever criminal faking a terrorist incident in order to steal those diamonds (in other words, motivation ripped off from DIE HARD).

Be that as it may -- this ship is Totally Computer Controlled, and Geiger takes it over with the aid of his handy laptop. He now makes the port engine overspeed and explode. (No one seems to figure out that turning the big red wheel marked "Fuel Oil Cutoff Valve" will stop the engine from destroying itself.)

Geiger now pops a bunch of smoke bombs, and tells the officers that the ship is on fire, and they'll have to abandon ship. In a scene of total buffoonery, we discover that these particular officers have never heard of "Life Boat Stations" or "Muster Lists." They haven't heard of Duty Fire Parties either.

Oh no! The Cute Little Deaf Girl is trapped in an elevator! Not to worry, she gets out of the top of the elevator and climbs up the shaft.

All the lifeboats get away but one (in other words, it isn't 500 hostages heading for disaster, it's around 35), and Geiger starts the ship up again. He's got the starboard engine up to full speed ahead.

Time for me to tell you a little about marine engineering. This ship has marine diesel engines for its power plant. That means that its top speed will be about 22 or 23 knots. One shaft is stopped and locked. That cuts their top speed to about nine knots. Maybe ten, if they've got a tailwind and they're going downhill. Further, with just the starboard shaft running, the ship will tend to turn in a wide circle to port. Turning to starboard will be darned difficult.

Our boy Alex and our girl Annie are still onboard. So's the Cute Little Deaf Girl and her parents, and a bunch of fat people. So's Geiger, and so are the ship's officers, as incompetent a crew as ever sailed the briney blue. I think they got their positions by eating a lot of bowls of Captain Crunch cereal. It certainly wasn't by knowing anything about ships. These guys can't figure out how to stop a marine diesel engine. So to make up for the lack, they start taking orders from this [insert very bad word here] civilian. He doesn't know much about ships either, but what the hey.

Hah! Alex has a clever idea! He'll mess up Geiger's navigation by ballasting down! Just why this ship has ballast tanks in the first place is never explained. How it will mess up the navigation isn't explained either, as ballasting won't affect either course or speed.

As the ballast tanks are opened, Alex catches sight of something on the closed-circuit television inside the ballast tank -- and why that's there is beyond me too. It's the Cute Little Deaf Girl! How she got into the ballast tanks also escapes me -- it generally takes an 18" crescent wrench to open the access plates to get into them, and there are no lights inside. Anyway, somehow, by climbing up, she got to the very lowest part of the ship. Our hero dashes into the ballast tanks to save her. And now we learn that, in a first for marine architecture, this ship ballasts down by flooding the ship's laundry.

Wait! Geiger is still running around! You were wondering about that skeet shooting scene, right? Our boy Alex gets a shotgun from the skeet range, and goes looking for Geiger. He comes to the main lounge, and there's Geiger, using the wall-sized multi-CRT television to taunt him. Alex gets so angry that he blasts a bunch of the TVs with his shotgun! (You can tell that he's angry because his jaw is set to the same angle as it had been when he was thinking about proposing to his girlfriend. Which coincidentally is the same angle as when he's riding his motorcycle, eating his dinner, or lounging around the pool.)

Now he runs out and finds Geiger in a passageway, and to show he means business, he shoots the bulkhead!

Now he needs to shoot Geiger, and click! he's out of ammo! Big surprise there.

Geiger runs off.

Now Alex has another clever idea! He'll stop the ship by wrapping a mooring line around the starboard screw! And, because he's the hero (and has an IQ that many carrots would envy), he dons scuba gear to hand-feed the line into the propeller!

Somehow shutting off the fuel to the engine hasn't occurred to him. (There will be a cutoff valve in the engine room, and one on the main deck or the DC (damage control) deck. The second cutoff valve will be there in case of a fuel oil spray fire in the engine room, in which case you can't get to the main cutoff valve. Several other ideas haven't occurred to him either -- including stuffing his shirt into the engine's air intake, dropping a wrench into main reduction gear, or shutting off the lube-oil pump on the main thrust bearing or the spring bearings. No, he has to go over the side.

And while he's down there, Geiger pops up, kidnaps Annie, and takes off on jet skis! This makes no sense at all, of course, but why should we start now?

Wait, the mooring line tears the winch right out of the deck! The ship is on a collision course with a moored oil tanker!

The oil tanker gets underway, and is heading from port to starboard, in front of the cruise ship. If they manage to turn a degree to port, they'll pass under her stern. If they turn to starboard, they'll have to turn about 90 degrees to miss.

Our hero has a plan! He goes down to the bow thrusters (and in another first for marine architecture, these are hand cranked bow thrusters), and turns to starboard! (Recall that with the starboard shaft going ahead and the port shaft stopped, turning to starboard is all but impossible.) Going to after steering, disconnecting the steering motors and cranking in 30 degrees left rudder with the chainfalls hasn't occurred to him.

Hooray! They made it! But now they're heading for the town!

They run through a whole bunch of moored sailboats and rubber dinghies. Each one they hit slows them by a knot or two! But they're still going to hit the pier!

No one on shore notices them coming, of course. Something I was wondering was this: why weren't they showing the day-shape for I Am Not Under Command, or the flag signal for Mechanical Breakdown? Why weren't the people on the lifeboats using their lifeboat radios to call for help? Where were the tugs and the CNN helicopter and all that good stuff?

So they hit the town. If you saw the previews you saw this bit anyway. We're told explicitly that they're going under five knots when they hit. That's a fast walking pace, or maybe a slow jog, and the deceleration is gradual. But still, people on board the ship get thrown through windows. Every rubber dinghy they hit out in the harbor slowed them by a knot, but hitting the island hardly slows them down. Still, eventually, they do come to rest. You'll be glad to hear that the cute dog on the pier survives, and the ship has no apparent structural damage.

Remember Annie? She's been missing for the last 30 minutes or so (and her role in the last half of the film has been limited to telling Alex to be careful). Well, Alex hasn't forgotten her! He commandeers a speedboat, and heads out to save her (even though Geiger has a half-hour head start on him). What Geiger wants with her is anyone's guess. Perhaps he wants to [very bad word]. Geiger gets to his seaplane moments before Alex does. Alex whips out a spear gun, shoots the pontoon of the seaplane as it's taking off, climbs up the line to the now airborne plane, rescues Annie, and jumps in the ocean. Geiger crashes into that oil tanker. The oil tanker explodes, for reasons that elude me. Alex finally proposes to Annie. His jaw doesn't quiver.

Actually, it's occurred to me why Geiger kidnapped Annie. If he hadn't, after the ship crashed into the town, Alex and Annie would have just have looked at each other, said, "Whew! That's over!" and gone looking for duty-free shops.

Then, a quick cut later, we're back in LA. Remember that driver's test at the beginning? It was the only entertaining part of the film, so they're doing it again. And that's the end of the movie.

As high-speed disaster epics go, this one was pretty slow moving. Ships just don't go that fast, and ocean distances are very large. Marine diesel engines aren't that hard to shut down (in fact, it takes a crew of highly skilled technicians, working 24 hours a day, to keep them going). At one point Alex rips off his shirt. In the next scene he's got a shirt again. It isn't hard to tell why: at the speed things were moving, he'd be able to go back to his stateroom for a shower, a change, a quickie with Annie, and a nap, before the next death-defying deed.

The Abandon Ship sequence happens at night. Call it 0300 at the latest, but probably closer to midnight. By the next scene it's full daylight, and the angle of the sun makes it look like about 1000. Then we get the mooring line fiasco. After this, St. Martin's shows up at a range where they need binoculars to see it. In short, seven to fourteen hours have elapsed here. Plenty of time to catch Geiger, stop the engines, fix the radios, play a game of shuffleboard, and down two or three of those tall drinks with the little paper umbrellas.

The subtitle "Cruise Control" was well chosen. It seems that the writers, the actors, and the director were on automatic pilot throughout.

There's lots more silly stuff. (I liked the bit where we operated a gasoline-fired chainsaw (surely a part of every ship's equipment) in an enclosed space without having anyone keel over from carbon monoxide poisoning). But that's enough for right here right now. Take my advice: go to the video store and rent SPEED. Make some popcorn, invite your friends over, and have a good time.

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