I have already made it clear in these pages how much I love Jan de Bont's Speed (1994), and how, for me, it's one of the greatest summer movies ever made. (Both Forrest Gump and The Lion King also came out that summer, and Speed made them both look like bloated parade floats.) Nevertheless, I'll reiterate why it's so great. First and foremost, there's the simple, brilliant setup, an idea that might even have turned Rod Serling green with envy. It's so brilliant, they wrote it in a line of Dennis Hopper's dialogue: "There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do?" The imagination reels.
Then there's the matter of the casting. Keanu Reeves turned his usual stoned surfer character into a stripped down masterpiece of Zen deadpan, the calm at the center of the storm. And for the humanity, Sandra Bullock became a star at the wheel, driving the bus as well as the movie with her warmth, allure, humor, hysteria, panic, and relief. If the pace of the bus is the movie's rhythm, and Keanu is its rock-steady beat, then Sandra is the melody. Another way of putting it is that Speed is one of the fastest movies ever made, but it's brilliantly constructed so that the pace is not a constant monotone. It ebbs and flows in an organic way.
Not many movies have ever been able to re-capture this kind of exhilaration, except one. Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run opened in Germany in the late summer of 1998. I first saw it at the San Francisco International Film Festival in the spring of 1999, but you can bet I went back to see it, twice more, when it opened in June. It may not be faster than Speed, but at only 81 minutes, it's definitely leaner. Additionally, its throbbing, thumping, driving score helped make it seem faster as well (the CD became a staple in my car that summer). Perhaps not surprisingly, it also has a relationship at its center, with a constantly moving female and a rock steady male. However, in this one, Tykwer makes it absolutely clear that the female is the caretaker and the problem-solver in the relationship.
The clearest connection between the two films is the use of three acts, or three parts, to help break up the action and make it palatable for humans. A constant thrum of action can become monotonous to us, and so both Speed and Run Lola Run find rest breaks in-between. In Speed, we get the elevator bomb, then a rest break, which includes a night of drinking and a morning stop at a coffee shop for some java and a muffin. Then we get the bus for the major, middle portion of the film. During the pause, Keanu and Sandra find time for some cuddling, and then we get the big subway finale.
Run Lola Run has a different gimmick, which is the three different realities. Lola (Franka Potente) has 20 minutes to find $100,000 German marks and bring it to her hapless criminal boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), who left an important bag of cash on a subway. In her different realities, a second's pause can make all the difference, and it's that kind of heartbreak beat that makes the movie zoom along. But in-between segments, we get some amazing images of Lola and Manni, lying in bed, talking about life. Mostly they talk about the "what ifs" in their relationship. The ultimate conclusion is: "that's life."
That's the only place the two films don't really match up. I'm not quite sure Speed has the same ideas in mind. Its preoccupations seem to be more along the lines of "that's summer."