There are two things you need to know about Speed Kills.
The first thing is that Speed Kills is a movie that stars John Travolta as a speedboat mogul who runs drugs for the mafia. It’s important to start there because it is a true statement and also an incredible one. Did you ever think you’d see the day when someone made a speedboat drug movie that stars John Travolta? I did not. To be fair, I didn’t even realize it was something that was on the table. But that’s the thing about movies and art, in general. They expand the range of what’s possible. They make dreams real. And sometimes, well, those dreams are about John Travolta in a speedboat.
This brings us to the second thing you need to know: Speed Kills is not good. I imagine you figured that out already, though, considering it’s a speedboat movie that stars John Travolta — fresh off of Gotti and with Fred Durst’s directorial debut on the way — and went straight to VOD and was at one point released in 10-minute chunks in a format specifically designed for VR headsets. I am not joking about this last part. I am extremely not joking about it. Look at the website. Each segment has its own title, like “Drug Running” and “Fast Money” and “Breaking Hearts.” It’s all very on-the-nose and just flabbergasting on a number of levels and this is the actual poster for the movie.
It has everything: Helicopters, speedboats, explosions, more helicopters, Travolta holding a gun and looking straight into my eyes with a facial expression that screams “Well, I guess I’m in a speedboat movie now.” Yes, I watched Speed Kills. It was somehow both more and less than what I expected. I’m sure you have questions about all of this. Please, fire away.
What is any of this?
Great place to start. Travolta plays a guy named Ben Aronoff who is loosely based on a real guy named Don Aronow. The movie opens with him on a pay phone in New Jersey in 1962. He’s a real estate guy and things got weird and it’s not important at all because it’s only there to get us to Miami. Actually, wait. I lied. The movie opens with Tom Sizemore walking into John Travolta’s speedboat store to threaten him and then zips back in time to the Jersey thing to explain how we got there.
Tom Sizemore is in this movie?
Kind of! He’s only in that one scene but it bookends the movie. Like, he really walks in at the beginning of the movie to intimidate Travolta with hammy warnings and then we never see his character again until the very end, where he repeats the exact same hammy threats. This fact alone explains the movie better than any of the words I’m about to type.
Here’s the best part, though: In this scene and the flashback that immediately follows it, which, again, takes place 25 years earlier, John Travolta looks exactly the same. The only attempt to age him up or down in the whole thing involves changing hairpieces. I love it so much.
Hmm. Okay, tell me about these speedboats.
So Travolta’s character heads to Miami with his family and he sees a speedboat race and falls in love. You can tell he falls in love because there’s a freeze frame and voiceover — one of many in the movie, usually deployed to introduce new characters — where he says “And boom, just like that, I was in love. The speed, the water, the rush: I wanted it, I needed it.” And boom, just like that, he becomes a speedboat racer and builder and there are three separate montages of him collecting trophies in about 15 minutes.
I’m having trouble picturing this. Do you, perhaps, have a screencap or two of him in a speedboat?
I thought you’d never ask.
Wait, I have more.
Okay, that hel-
And here’s one of him telling Meyer Lansky that “everyone and their brother wants a speedboat.”
The Meyer Lansky? The infamous mafia money man who Hymen Roth was based on in The Godfather II?
Yup! He’s played by James Remar and he pops up throughout the movie and every scene starts with him being friendly and ends with him growling at Travolta. His nephew, Robbie, is played by Kellen Lutz from Twilight and is the main antagonist. He also growls a lot.
You’re naming a lot of actors but you haven’t mentioned Jordi Molla yet. I assume he’s in this movie because it is a drug movie and Jordi Molla is in every drug movie.
I knew it. And does he, maybe, at one point, turn on Travolta and hold a gun to his head while shouting some variation of “We’re not so different”?
Yeah, I think I’m starting to understand this movie.
You really are. I’m only hitting the highlights, though. A lot of it is just… not great. Characters appear only as long as it takes for them to teach Travolta’s character a lesson about life and then they disappear. His son injures his spine in a car accident and Travolta yells at him and takes him to the racetrack to bet on horses and gives him a pile of money and then we never see the kid again. Female characters are tossed aside left and right. He leaves his wife and starts dating the King of Jordan’s girlfriend, played by Katheryn Winnick, whose only responsibilities in the movie are staring out into the ocean with a look of concern on her face and crying into a telephone.
Why is she staring into the ocean, though?
Ahhh, I forgot to tell you about the storm.
Yeah. A big boat race takes place in awful weather and Travolta is out there bouncing around in choppy waters. The CGI is not great. It makes The Hurricane Heist look like Avatar. Look at this.
So, like, would you recommend this movie?
Let me put it this way. If you want to watch a good movie, or even an okay one, I cannot in good conscience recommend Speed Kills. But, if you want to watch a bad drug movie filled with John Travolta making perplexing faces in and out of speedboats, complete with thin characters and threats delivered by Tom Sizemore and Matthew Modine showing up as George H.W. Bush for literally 90 seconds, then I guess I c-
Timeout. Matthew Modine shows up as George H.W. Bush in the Travolta speedboat movie?
Yeah, it’s weird.
I think I’m going to have to see this at some point.