Not Up To `Speed' -- Lumbering `Cruise Control' Runs Aground On A Shallow Script

------------ Movie review ------------

XX "Speed 2: Cruise Control," with Sandra Bullock, Jason Patric, Willem Dafoe, Temuera Morrison. Directed by Jan De Bont from a screenplay by Randall McCormick and Jeff Nathanson. Alderwood, Auburn Cinema 17, Bella Bottega 7, Crossroads, Everett Mall 1-3, Everett Mall 4-10, Factoria, Issaquah 9, Kent 6, Kirkland Parkplace, Lewis & Clark, Meridian 16, Metro, Mountlake 9, Oak Tree, Renton Village, SeaTac Mall, SeaTac North, Snohomish, South Hill Mall, Valley drive-in. 125 minutes. "PG-13" - Parental guidance advised for profanity and violence.

A NONSTOP ROLLER-COASTER RIDE! After watching "Speed 2: Cruise Control" you'll want to strap director Jan De Bont into the front seat of A NONSTOP ROLLER COASTER RIDE! Later, as you sit sipping a drink trackside and hear his car come back around - CLACK! CLACK! CLACK! - and see the wind-induced tears in his eyes and the curious look on his face, you'll yell, "Speed 2: Cruise Control!" just as he barrels by. It's the only way you'll achieve satisfaction.

It's vindictive, but somebody should pay for this truly horrid sequel. The blame won't easily stick to Sandra Bullock. Sure, she made a bundle for appearing in this inevitable reprise of the 1994 surprise hit "Speed," and most certainly doesn't carry the picture, but she does her bit.

Bullock returns to her role as the chirpy Annie Porter, the DMV nightmare who piloted the bus the last go-round. Her frazzled, but sweet, demeanor was as much a reason for the original's success as its entertaining concept, gleeful carnage, and perfect pace. Along with Keanu Reeves, her co-star of that film, none of those attributes signed on for "Speed 2."

So Annie's left to fend for herself, this time on a cruise vacation with her new boyfriend, Alex (Jason Patric). The ship gets hijacked by a lone madman named John Geiger (Willem Dafoe). Geiger, a "disgruntled ex-employee who is suffering from a terminal illness," has an ax to grind for being downsized and plans to rob things and blow things up and get away with it. Of course, Annie and Alex complicate his plans.

It's a weak premise, just the kind of thing you'd think up in the tub, and director Jan De Bont, who's given story credit, must have gotten all pruney conjuring up the rest of "Cruise Control." He and screenwriters Randall McCormick and Jeff Nathanson try to echo some of the successful beats and nuances of the original (which De Bont also directed), but none of it catches.

Much as in last year's blustery "Twister," De Bont hucksters what seems like the entire soundtrack (UB40 again?) at you in the first 20 minutes while Bullock and Patric try to simulate chemistry. As you realize that "Speed 2" has none of the charm or exhilaration of its predecessor, the movie becomes like a date that you're trying tactfully to dump, and keeps snuggling closer as you try to inch away.

De Bont gives the requisite creepy aspects to the villain; Geiger attaches leeches to himself and listens to opera (what's creepier than opera?). Willem Dafoe dredges up the Willem Dafoe of "Streets of Fire" to play Geiger; it's a one-note role that's less malevolence and more nuisance than you'd expect from such a fine actor. Temuera Morrison, from "Once Were Warriors," proves anyone can look silly in the wrong role as the first mate, Juliano. Bo Svenson (where's he been all these years?) appears as the ship's captain.

A lot of blame, however, is rightly going to fall on the lignified shoulders of Jason Patric. Introspective and reserved, he has been wonderful in small films such as "The Journey of August King." Why he burdens the audience with appearing in an action/adventure movie is anyone's guess.

Patric has always petulantly nurtured the mystique that he was far too cool to be an actor and that he can have fun but doesn't have to let that on to the bourgeois pigs in the audience. His Alex is as aloof as possible and you can't root for a hero who's unreasonably distant. De Bont has to be congratulated for finding someone with a lower emotional register than Keanu Reeves.

A propeller sequence has some tension, as does the "money shot" of a collision of the cruise liner and an oil tanker. After delivering on that sequence, De Bont shifts attention to a small port town that's in the liner's path. Not to give away the ending but it drags on and on and - wait a second - here he comes again. . . . CLACK! CLACK! CLACK! - "Speed 2: Cruise Control!"

There, I feel better already.