Someone must have really shown Cuba Gooding Jr. the money for him to risk his Oscar cachet on this derivative buddy movie that never quite gets up to Speed despite its blatant ripoff of that breakneck thriller's gimmick. Instead of a bomb-rigged bus forced to maintain its speed of 50 mph, here we have Elvis, a chemical weapon that must be kept cooler than 50 degrees. Standing between us and flesh-melting defoliant devastation are the requisite mismatched antagonists Mason, a short-order cook (Skeet Ulrich), and Arlo, a thief (Gooding).
Elvis was created by Mason's fishing buddy, Dr. Richard Long (David Paymer), a biologist still shaken up by a deadly test 10 years earlier that went awry and killed 18 soldiers. Instead of Long, "thorn in the side" Captain Andrew Bryner (Peter Firth) took the fall and went to prison. Now, the embittered Bryner has been released and is understandably vengeful. A ticking time bomb himself, the demented Bryner leads the relentless pursuit of Mason and Arlo, who have been compelled by Long to transport Elvis to a military base 90 miles away in--get this--Arlo's ice cream truck.
Gooding works hard for the money, although he was shortchanged by the script ("I'd like to kick your ass like last year's underwear" is a sample bon mot). Still, he makes his exuberant Oscar acceptance speech look restrained. And Firth makes an effective villain. "Your lives will end on this miserable road to nowhere," he warns the duo, "and I can't guarantee the end will be quick." Hardly a Factor at the box office, this thriller is fine for action fans who want to put their brains on cruise control and just chill at home. --Donald Liebenson