What in the hell is going on with John Travolta? It’s a question that could be asked any number of times over his 40-plus year career, but it seems like something has really flown off the rails with the legendary movie star. Travolta is a man of immense talent and terrible taste. Travolta’s latest misguided effort is Speed Kills, an incredibly inept mob movie about speed boats based on the true story of murdered speed boat mogul Donald Aronow. Speed Kills comes right after the equally inept Gotti, leaving one to wonder why Travolta is now fixated on starring in ridiculous mob movies whose defining qualities are sheer incompetence. Amazingly, I’d argue that Speed Kills is far worse than Gotti because the latter is so audaciously bad that you can’t help but be entertained whereas the former is just painfully bad.
Speed Kills opens as so many great movies do – with a tense standoff between John Travolta and Tom Sizemore. Then the film goes back to 1962 as Ben Aronoff (Travolta) is just losing his job in construction. He then travels to Miami Beach where he’s seduced by the world of speed boat racing. The film with its montages of Travolta in speed boats smiling gives you the impression that he teamed with director Jodi Scurfield to make the speed boat version of Goodfellas, allowing Travolta to dabble in his passion for speed boats and unimaginative mob movies.
Aronoff takes over the world of speed boat racing, becoming a world champion racer and a mogul as a dealer. However, his superfast aquatic vessels gain all sorts of attention from the rich and powerful, including – and I’m dead serious – George H.W. Bush (Matthew Modine) and various drug cartels. Soon Travolta’s Aronoff is dealing with the dangerous forces of Meyer Lansky (James Remar) and Robbie Reemer (Kellan Lutz), and finds himself under the watchful eye of DEA Agent Lopez (Amaury Nolasco). Ben Aronoff is living life in the fast lane, but as the title cautions – Speed Kills!
Like Gotti, Speed Kills covers decades in the life of its character all the while with Travolta looking exactly the same in a story which spans three decades. It’s an odd choice for any movie starring a 64-year-old actor, but it’s especially bewildering here because Scurfield is unable to craft any sense of era throughout the film’s decades. Aside from the occasional year flashed on the screen, there’s nothing to differentiate the years. The music is anachronistic from scene to scene – at times bouncing between a modern-styled surf rock and flat-out modern pop. None of this should be surprising as the first few minutes of Speed Kills establishes that this film has little interest in continuity after watching Travolta go through a heavy rotation of unmatching hairpieces.
The novelty of Speed Kills wears off fast and you’re just left with a very bad movie. Travolta doesn’t even seem to be trying – lord knows whoever was doing his wigs certainly wasn’t trying. Say what you will about Gotti, at least that film found inventive ways to be terrible. Speed Kills doesn’t have that distinction. Instead it’s just awful in every facet of its being to the point where it’s badness is bland. At least Speed Kills closes as so many great movies do – with the very same tense standoff between John Travolta and Tom Sizemore that we saw at the beginning.
John Travolta headlines Speed Kills, an astonishingly inept mob movie which combines its star’s passion for fast maritime vessels and inept movies about the mafia.