Thursday, November 15, 2018

Speed Kills (And So Does the Mob)

Don’t let the “off” fool you. Ben Aronoff is transparently modeled on speed boat designer and manufacturer Donald Aronow. In fact, this film is explicitly based on Arthur Jay Harris’s non-fiction account of Aronow’s rise, fall, and murder, so why bother with such a minor name change? Aronoff/now sold boats to the US Customs Service and plenty of drug runners, but his old associate Meyer Lansky insisted he chose a side: his. At least that is the version of events presented in Jodi Scurfield’s Speed Kills (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Think of this as Casino in the ocean. ‘Noff/Now was a contractor in Jersey who made a fortune building projects “referred” his way by Lansky’s outfit, but things got too hot in 1959, so he skedaddled down to Miami with his family. Initially, he wanted to keep his old mob associates at arm’s length. Right, good luck with that. Soon after arriving, he got an eyeful of boat-racing and was immediately hooked. Soon, he was designing and marketing his own line of cigarette boats. He made a splash by racing his designs to victory in a number of high-profile races, but fielding and supporting a full-time racing team would greatly sap the company’s resources. Hmm, what other markets for power boats could you tap into in the Miami area?

In a way, Noff/Now is also presented as the DeLorean of boats, but screenwriters David Aaron Cohen & John Luessenhop suggest he really wanted to divorce himself from the mob. However, he is still a complete jerk, who cheats on first wife, played by Jennifer Esposito, and steals away his super-model second wife from King Hussein of Jordan (seriously, he does). In between getting whacked in medea res and his tom-catting, Noff/Now participates in a number of predictable races and several staring contests with Lansky’s thuggish, drug-running nephew, Robbie Reemer. Plus, he sells a few boats to Vice Pres. George H.W. Bush and future Treasury Sec. Nicholas Brady.

As Noffsky, John Travolta never ages a day over the film’s nearly thirty-year span, probably because he already looks far too old and creaky to be playing the boat kingpin in his early 1960s racing prime. However, James Remar nearly saves the day as the hardboiled, bourbon-hardened Lansky. Matthew Modine is also surprisingly on-target with his more-or-less respectful cameo as Bush Senior. Tom Sizemore adds some random edginess as the hitman seen in the wrap-around segments. Unfortunately, Katheryn Winnick and Esposito are grossly under-employed as Noffy’s wives, but it is downright embarrassing to watch Kellan Lutz as Reemer, probably the dullest, dreariest, most unsightly mulleted villain to ever barge across a movie screen.

Miami Vice probably would not have been the same without Aronow, but his case is probably better suited to a series of magazine article or a true crime paperback than a full-length feature. Scurfield never elevates the predictable material and the flashback structure largely scuttles any possible suspense right from the start. Not recommended, Speed Kills opens tomorrow (11/16) in New York, at the Cinema Village.