So that was 10 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
I’m talking, of course, about the agonizing 600 seconds I spent struggling to watch “Speed Kills,” the recently released Hollywood bio-pic based loosely—and I mean pile-of-string-loose—on the life and times of high-performance marine industry legend Don Aronow, the man behind the famed Cigarette, Donzi and Magnum brands.
Assassinated in 1987, Aronow, played by a goofy, hammy and downright silly John Travolta (and I’m a fan)—at least in the 10 minutes of the movie I was able to sit through in the comfort of my own home thanks to Comcast Xfinity—became the stuff of good and bad legend before he hit the pavement. His legacy and alleged involvement with organized crime figures and smugglers is still hotly debated in the go-fast powerboating world. Even today, Aronow remains larger than life.
And yet I knew the movie would be a train wreck long before I gave it a 10-minute chance. Movies that revolve around the high-performance powerboating world, or use it as a prominent plot element, are doomed to fail.
First, they don’t have enough nonstop on-the-water action and authenticity to please go-fast boating enthusiasts, which by the numbers is a tiny segment of the general viewing audience. Even the impossibly stupid “Miami Vice” movie based on the mind-numbing 1980s television show didn’t have enough on-water action for serious performance-boat enthusiasts, and it still had a lot more than most movies involving powerboats.
Second, most general viewers wouldn’t care if they did. The boats are cool enough for the average movie-goer, but they’re also ancillary to the story, even if it’s well told, which “Speed Kills” is not. The amount of go-fast boating action required to satisfy a devoted go-fast boating enthusiast would put a general viewer to sleep.
In short, movies with high-performance powerboats as the subject or primary theme fail because good story-telling becomes secondary to showing pretty objects running fast on the water. Pretty objects running fast on the water make for good five- to 10-minutes videos, at least for members of the high-performance powerboating community. (Just ask Stu and Jackie Jones at the Florida Powerboat Club.) But they’re not enough to sustain the plot of a 112-minute feature film written around them.
Yet used in short, high-energy bursts, go-fast boats can become a movie’s stars. Who can forget, for example, the Carlson-Glastron levee-jump scene in “Live And Let Die” of James Bond series fame, the Venice, Italy, canal-chase sequence in “The Italian Job” and all of the Fitipaldi-Scarab scenes in “Tequila Sunrise?”
Less is more, right, because less leaves you wanting more. More is just—more.
“Speed Kills” did deliver one thrill for me. In the first few minutes, I saw my longtime friend and speedonthewater.com contributor John Tomlinson, who taught Travolta how to drive a boat for the film, appear briefly (two to three seconds) in a cameo as a powerboat racer. That was cool. I’m always proud to see a friend on the big screen.
Then again, I’ll see and run boats with him during the 2019 Miami International Boat Show in a few months. And I know I’ll be entertained and enlightened for a lot more than 10 minutes.
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.