The Inept Speed Boat Mob Movie “Speed Kills” of John Travolta

Following on from the recent Gotti, John Travolta once again toplines a film which is undeserving of his talents with Speed Kills. This time around The King Of Cool takes to the high seas as Ben Aronoff, a speedboat racing millionaire who dabbles in suppling boats to druglords on the side.

Aronoff meets a bloody end in the film’s opening minutes and we get to see the rise and fall of the Miami-based millionaire in flashback. It’s not very good but at least it’s short, light and breezy with Travolta once again giving a charismatic performance that really should be in a much better film. It’s the movies which have become small for the Pulp Fiction star.

This is a true crime film, but the biggest crime in this sorry excuse for a film was the script. The writing was even worse than the special effects, which is saying a great deal. What is sad, is the real story of Don Aronow, is truly a fascinating one, even if you don’t care about the history of performance boats at all. Aronow has a story worth telling, and worth telling right; this film is a mockery of film, his family, and his legacy. The story is so incoherent, I don’t think Don himself would have been able to follow what was supposed to be happening.

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.

The directing credit on Speed Kills belongs to first-time helmer Jodi Scurfield, however the word on the street is that Scurfield is actually a pseudonym for co-writer John Luessenhop, who apparently helmed the film before falling out with producers. This rings true as Speed Kills is not a movie that anyone would boast about directing. The low point comes as Travolta’s Aronoff races directly into a raging squall, a sequence which should be Speed Kills‘ highlight. However, the scene’s atrocious CGI is almost hypnotic in its badness – it’s as if The Perfect Storm never happened.

There’s not much to recommend in Speed Kills if you’re not a John Travolta fan (unfortunately Movies In Focus is!) and for that it’s solid enough viewing. It’ll make your yearn for Get Shorty – but it also features Matthew Modine doing a fun (but brief) George Bush Sr impersonation, so at least there’s that.


Rating: R (for language, some violence and drug material)
Genre: Action & Adventure
Directed By: Jodi Scurfield
Stars: John Travolta, Katheryn Winnick, Jennifer Esposito
Written By: David Aaron Cohen, John Luessenhop
In Theaters: Nov 16, 2018 Limited
On Disc/Streaming: Jan 15, 2019
Runtime: 102 minutes
Studio: Saban Films


Dennis Harvey
What’s not to like? Well, everything — unless you’re the star, who seems convinced that this embarrassingly cloddish biopic-slash-thriller actually flatters both him and its subject.

Simon Abrams
I can’t recommend Speed Kills to anyone because it’s not even good enough to gawk at.

Noel Murray
A featureless knockoff of seemingly every sweeping true-crime movie of the past three decades.

Niall Browne
Following on from the recent Gotti, John Travolta once again toplines a film which is undeserving of his talents with Speed Kills.

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