As part of my New Year’s Ultimatums (“resolutions” is way too passive) I said to myself I’d review every film I saw in 2017 by comparing them to the nearest possible equivalent episode of The Simpsons. I call this series “Ben Getting Hit By Football”.
Otherwise known as The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down, Keanu Reeves’ Speed draws an obvious parallel with Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming (S07E09) both of which feature an homicidal maniac extorting the authorities with a bomb.
Speed is a film that I am exclusively aware of thanks to the Father Ted episode “Speed 3”. Speed was directed by the man who did Die Hard, a film I have not seen, so my expectations were set at absolute neutral. I was not to be disappointed.
Speed sees the boundaries of physics often pushed to their limits – in one scene a bus effortless jumps a 50 foot gap on the motorway. Of course, in Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming adherence to the laws of nature are woven inextricably into the plot, as it is our old friend Helium and its effect on the human voice that gives away Sideshow Bob’s location. In Speed, Dennis Hopper gives away his own location! What a loser.
In Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming, Sideshow Bob is defeated by his own hubris – his murderous obsession with Krusty leads him to steal the original Wright Brothers plane and crash it into the shack in which Krusty is holed up. This is a terrible plan and it fails.
However, in Speed, Dennis Hopper gets decapitated by the true hero of this film, the Los Angeles Subway System. This is an on-going trend in Western action films that sees the main villain of the film violently and arbitrarily executed –he is not a victim of his own arrogance or blind ambition, but the wrong end of a gun. It’s an easy, stupid and lazy way to remove the villain at the end and almost completely robs the hero of any agency. Sure, Keanu Reeves may have been the one to push Dennis Hopper’s head into the ceiling but anyone could’ve done that at any point and achieved the same emotional effect. I’ve been told it’s iconic but, more often than not, “cool” does not mean “good”.
Instead; what if by constantly forcing Dennis Hopper to change or abandon his fastidiously planned attacks, Keanu Reeves drives him to further extremes; forces him to use more and more dynamite, to become more desperate for any money, to come out in the open, to reveal his plots due to stress, to become more slapdash in the handling of his explosives. Eventually Dennis Hopper could meet his end after accidentally and prematurely detonating his mismanaged load, destroying his footing. Keanu Reeves struggles to save him, but cannot hold Dennis Hopper’s hand which was injured in the earlier explosion. Hopper falls to his death. Maybe he gets decapitated in some way, people really seem to like the decapitation. You can’t even see that much blood! My version is probably less interesting on the surface but it at least has the scope to broaden both characters beyond simple exchanges of violence. It is through Hopper’s own failings that his death comes, and not a prosthetic head being severed from its torso by a signal light.
It is completely accidental that The Simpsons perfectly showcases how a villain is most satisfactorily foiled by comparison and it is a testament to the instinctive understanding of character AND comedy that every writer and producer working on it showed time and time again.
Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming is not an especially quotable episode, nor does it stand out among the many better Sideshow Bob episodes of the first 9 series. The problem then is that it might be a 3*** Bob episode, a 5***** general sitcom episode or a 4**** early Simpsons episode. I’m of the opinion that when trying to weigh up how good something is you’ve got to look at what it’s trying to accomplish and see if it met the goals it set for itself. You gotta consider its value as a Simpsons episode contemporary with other Simpsons episodes.
If I were to think of a quintessentially macho action film, it would be Speed. However, as far as blimp heists go, The Simpsons knocks Speed right out of the blimp hangar.
SPEED VERDICT: 2 ½ post-Ferris Bueller Alan Rucks out of 5
SIDESHOW BOB’S LAST GLEAMING VERDICT: 4 cups of Alcohol-Free Duff ($6) out of 5
Easy Simpsons win.