Exit Speed is a fairly improbable mashup of Speed, Die Hard, Airport and Mad Max. I picked it up for £1 due to Fred Ward’s name sitting proudly at the top. Also, as a kid of the 80’s, I will forever have a love of Lea Thompson. Put them both in an action movie and £1 is a complete steal. Still, it took me about 10 years to eventually watch it.
Julie Mond is a soldier, who has gone AWOL and Fred Ward is military police tracking her down. He’s good, finds her frequently, but not that good she manages to give him the slip from what it would appear. Lea Thompson is a mother desperate to get back to her kids in time for Christmas. There is a recently sacked football coach, a young, lustful couple with silly relationship problems and a young elven girl with elf skills, who will be pressured into killing as many people as possible later in the film.
At the centre of it all is Desmond Harrington from Dexter and Wrong Turn who is heading home to see his son on Christmas Eve and frantically picking up some rubbishy, cheap gas station toys and wrapping them in newspaper. Initially there seems to be a strange vibe from Harrington, however, don’t become too interested as questions won’t be answered.
This collective of characters are assembled to take the last bus on Christmas Eve … somewhere, however, the bus driver encounters a group of bikers, and accidentally runs over one. The biker gang does not seem to be in the mood to forgive and forget and attack the bus. In a relatively entertaining sequence the inhabitants of the bus panic as the bikers zip around smashing bottles against the windows and pulling wheelies. This leads to a low budget crash and the surviving members on the bus take refuge in an abandoned gas station / junk yard / fortress. The bikers hand around outside awaiting the rest of their gang before laying down a full onslaught.
Meanwhile, Fred is poking around the area tracking down Julie and realises the bus she hoped on is not on the route. The film is able to cut back to Fred frequently to ramp up the tension in their parallel storylines.
Exit Speed sets out to do one thing and it has no beef with factoring out reality. I mention that the film had a healthy Mad Max element to it and it’s in more ways than you think. Firstly, the biker gang would easily fit one of Max’s adventures, if they had more modern bikes. Moreover, the area of Texas where the action takes place might well have been a post-apocalyptic ghost town. No mobile service, no landlines and the only car on the road outside of the bus and bikes is Fred Ward looking for the bus and bikes. It becomes almost comic that we are to accept that the roads are totally abandoned on Christmas Eve and this biker gang functions without the law or FBI following them.
The biker gang is easily the biggest problem in the film. We don’t get to know them at all. They are a collection of faceless goons, in cheap Halloween costumes, attacking characters they are familiar with. There is a little backstory mentioned by a sidelined character to appease who they are and they are to be feared. However, their limited definition just does not make sense in a modern day United States. The film also throws in a little gore when these characters are dispatched and the one scene in which Ward discovers their hideout.
Then we come to the compound that our heroes see as their Alamo. Everything they need to survive is here. One of the bus passengers does not speak English and spends most of his screen time babbling about something whilst building a contraption and despite knowing he is lacking a crucial ingredient to his contraption functioning he carries on. When the folks work out what he is looking for, they suddenly stumble open a vast collection of something even better.
Fred and Lea bring quality performances to Exit Speed. Most of the cast is acceptable but you can tell the movie star presence when Fred and Lea are on the screen. The film does manage to get the two together later in the film. Both seem happy to be here and are enjoying the silly ideas and logic.
Director Scott Ziehl has a short but interesting list of credits, having directed Cruel Intentions 3, the forgotten direct-to-video sequel Road House 2 and fun Dan Aykroyd thriller Earth Vs. the Spider. The film is written by Iron Eagle IV and No Contest II scribe Michael Stokes who seems to switch between writing direct to video action and kids TV easily.
Exit Speed has enough action to get you through it, there just isn’t anything to write home about. The film has a lot of characters with drama to explore and in an effort to entertain the audience it forgets about the drama, only using it when it really needs to motivate a character or justify a decision. Most of the tough questions are avoided, whilst I appreciate the film having a more action focused narrative, without the budget to see it through, the characterisation suffers immensely.
Posters are typically exciting utilising the bigger names, bus, bikes and battles maximum effect. They work quite well and give a fairly honest representation of what to expect.