The 2018 mobster movie Speed Kills is what The Wolf of Wall Street could have been if there were no drugs, midgets, or nudity. It’s what Speed might have been had they cast John Travolta instead of Keanu Reeves. It is spectacularly awful, and I cannot not recommend it enough.
But Netflix can.
In another sign of the streaming service’s decline, Speed Kills is now available for your viewing displeasure.
The film is based on the true story of Donald Aronow, whose name in the movie was changed for obvious reasons to Ben Aronoff. (We actually don’t know why his name was changed. Perhaps producers thought “Donald” might turn away theater-goers who despised the Literal Hitler. But if true, why not change John Travolta’s name too?)
The movie opens with Aronoff getting murdered. It’s not a spoiler. The movie title itself gives away the end, which happens to be the beginning. It’s literally the first scene. The rest of the movie is a 25-year flashback in which no viewer who threw away 102 minutes of their lives watching it hoped at any point that Travolta survived the shooting.
Aronoff is a New Jersey construction boss who loses the union contract and has to flee to Miami. We aren’t told why. It’s not important. Aronoff has no other backstory. Ninety seconds into the film, after getting murdered, Travolta is in Miami doing Miami things.
He’s hanging out with other well-dressed men at his kid’s birthday party, not playing with his very sad kids, telling funny jokes only he laughs at, dancing with someone who isn’t his wife at the “jockey club” when “this motherfucker” or “that lawyer” or some other undeveloped character rushes over with extreme urgency to interrupt the jolly Aronoff with such dark and ominous warnings as: “We need to talk.” Or “Someone needs to talk to you.” Or “You need to get down to the warehouse.” Aronoff is rightfully upset.
One of those men is Meyer Lansky, “the financial wizard of organized crime,” Travolta tells us in a voiceover. “When he called, you answered.” Aronoff answered, only to quickly rebuff the wizard.
If you’re feeling lost, that’s intended. We actually employed the same writers of the movie to help write this review. As Aronoff told his first wife shortly after he was murdered in the first scene: “You’re swingin’ with Tarzan now. Hang on.”
So he’s in Miami. Freshly unemployed. Wandering around doing Miami things. Drinking, smoking, walking out onto a boat dock where a boat guy is standing in a boat offering a boat ride. Complete strangers, just like, “Hey, want to ride boats?” Travolta does, so they do.
The boat is sexy. The scenery is Florida. The writing makes freshman in Composition 101 blush. Totally straight Travolta and handsome hetero boat-ride-offerer…they ride. It’s sexy. The boats are sexy. They’re sexy boats. Travolta tells us this no less than seven times. The boats aren’t particularly sexy, and it has nothing to do with Travolta’s dentures coming unstuck every time he tries to convince us otherwise. The repeat declaration lands with the same unconvincing thud of a tranny screaming, “It’s ma’am!!”
The boat ride is full of caps lock “WHOO-HOOS!” and literal “yee-haws.” Then for the hook that viewers can’t not bite. Another Travolta voiceover that makes Hemingway shoot his head off all over again: “And boom, just like that I was in love. The speed, the water, the rush. I needed it. I wanted it. I would have it.”
And he does.
In the span of a few minutes, Aronoff buys a boat he can’t afford, races it once, loses, and 38 seconds later is shooting a TV commercial where he’s talking about his speed boat manufacturing company. We aren’t told how. It’s not important.
The rest is predictable. Drug dealers want the boats to run drugs. Bad guys beat up Aronoff and force him to sell his company, which he does, then buys back, sells again, then rebrands as “The Cigarette.” Racers want them. Drug lords want them. George H.W. Bush (played by Matthew Modine, famous for his role as Bill Gross in Gross Anatomy) wants them. That’s how sexy they are.
Then shit goes haywire and Aronoff gets shot. Twice. Once in each shoulder. You have to watch out for those deadly shoulder shots. BOOM-BOOM. A poorly aimed double-tap? Maybe. But a dead John Travolta nonetheless. Had there been a crowd, it would have went wild.
The movie was so bad the director removed his name from the credits and replaced it with a pseudonym. John Luessenhop, creator of Takers and Texas Chainsaw (not Massacre but the 2013 reboot), is in some places listed as the director, sometimes the co-director, and sometimes–on IMDB and Wikipedia–as only a writer. IMDB lists the director as Jodi Scurfield, who doesn’t seem to exist beyond this single citation. No social media. No website. No other film credits.
That’s because Jodi Scurfield is a word scramble of RIDICULED JOFS. Jofs, per Urban Dictionary, means “Johns”. John Luessenhop and John Travolta, ridiculed.
It is the most clever part of the movie. Yee-haw.
But for me the movie was worth watching. It was a lifetime achievement. For 12 years, The Human Centipede carried the title of “worst movie” I’d ever seen, beating out Gotti and even the terrible but hilarious Greasy Strangler.
By comparison, The Human Centipede is the 21st century’s Casablanca, and I can’t recommend it enough.