Check out our review of the John Travolta crime drama Speed Kills!
Speedboat magnate Ben Aronoff (John Travolta) finds himself in deep trouble when drug smugglers start using his company, and his boats, to move cocaine into Florida. Also stars Katheryn Winnick, Jennifer Esposito, James Remar and Kellan Lutz. Directed by Jodi Scurfield.
Speed Kills fancies itself a crime drama on the level of Goodfellas or The Departed. Instead, it’s a disjointed film that fails to take advantage of John Travolta’s star power and the riveting true story that served as the source material. In fact, Travolta’s mere presence is the only saving grace in this disappointing cinematic outing.
The film tells the real-life story of speedboat maker and racer Don Aronow (changed to Ben Aronoff for the film) as detailed in the book “Speed Kills” by Arthur J. Harris. Travolta’s character of Aronoff finds himself mixed up with drug smugglers after they decide his speedboats are the best way to move their product into Florida. The DEA gets wind of his involvement, and when Aronoff tries to sever ties with the drug cartel, his life begins to spiral out of control.
There’s certainly an interesting story here, but the film inexplicably spends much of its first half focusing on his life as a competitive speedboat racer. It isn’t handled well at all, and by the time the drug-smuggling plot gets moving, it’s far too late to save the film. Despite Travolta’s best efforts to bring some gravity to his role and the overall story, the script only gives a superficial recount of the events.
We’re not sure exactly who should shoulder the blame for this misfire. First-time director Jodi Scurfield certainly deserves most of it, delivering a surprisingly amateurish picture that feels assembled from outtakes of better crime films. Writers Paul Castro, David Aaron Cohen, and John Luessenhop all have experience with studio films, some rather successful. And yet, the screenplay is full of cliches, missing much of the dramatic potential the story offered.
The root cause might be traced to the THIRTY PLUS executive producers listed on the film’s Blu-ray case. One can only assume each had a hand in offering “creative input” that screwed this thing up.
The speedboat racing isn’t nearly as interesting as it should be, and is presented with all the flair of a montage from a 90’s cop show. The film seems to think we want scene after scene of Travolta racing boats and enjoying himself. Just when you think the movie is actually going to advance the story, another racing scene gets dropped on us.
When the film decides to get back to the actual plot, there are plenty of callbacks to other, better crime films. That doesn’t help much, and only reminds you that, despite the pedigree of the actors involved, the script and direction aren’t up to the task.
Characters appear and disappear with no explanation, and major plot details are glossed over. Suddenly, Aronoff’s first wife Kathy (Jennifer Esposito) is gone without any narrative closure. With no explanation, there is a time-jump and Aronoff is married to Emily (Katheryn Winnick) and has a child. It’s one of many instances in which details are glossed over or flat-out bypassed. It’s extremely lazy filmmaking.
Not only are Travolta’s efforts here wasted, other notable actors, including Kathryn Winnick, James Remar, and Michael Weston deliver solid performances in a mostly losing cause. They manage to keep the film somewhat watchable. They just don’t have a script and director worthy of their work.
The second half of the film, which shifts to Aronoff’s involvement with an organized crime mob using him for drug smuggling, is far more interesting and entertaining. Still, you can’t shake the feeling that there is a great story left untold. Not even John Travolta can bring it out.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
The high-definition transfer on the Blu-ray looks fantastic, with superior detail and color reproduction in the image. Colors are deep and blacks are inky, an overall solid transfer for a modestly-budgeted film.
Since the film takes place between the 1960s and 1980s, I expected the director to introduce some artificial grain or filters to give the scenes a vintage look. Instead, the film actually looks too good - and too modern - to have a vintage feel. It’s one of those rare times that a decent transfer actually works against a film.
The audio is a 5.1 DTS-HDMA mix that isn’t particularly active through the channels. Clarity is good, however, and works well enough for a film that doesn’t require a robust soundtrack.
There are no bonus features on the disc, besides a handful of trailers for other Lionsgate action movies.
The Blu-ray combo set does include a code that can be redeemed for a digital copy of the film. The code can be redeemed on services including Vudu and Fandango Now, but is not compatible with Movies Anywhere.
Release Date: January 15, 2019
Rating: R (Language, Violence, Drug Use)
Running Time: 102 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish
Special Features: Digital Copy