Speed Kills

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Speed Kills Movie Poster Image
Travolta crime thriller has mob violence, cursing.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 102 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Once you're in the mob, you can never get out.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ben is cocky and arrogant, an adventurous risk-taking philanderer. He seems to think he can get away with anything. He lies to his wife about being out all night with other women.


Movie starts and ends with a mob hit. Blood is seen from chest wounds. Drug agents have shoot-out with smugglers on a speed boat; crew member wounded, tossed into ocean by another crew member. Two men compete in boat race in stormy weather. A man falls over dead. Killers pursue a woman and her small child in tense car chase, but are thwarted before they can cause harm. After car crash, two men are seen bloody, unconscious. A youth ends up paralyzed, fighting for his life in hospital.


Tongue-kissing is clearly seen. A man and woman kiss on a bed. From the back, the woman's bare torso is seen.



"F--k," "s--t," "bastard," "bitch," "ass," "pr--k," "hell," and "crap."


Speed Kills VR Experience is a 60-minute virtual reality app with the same cast.


Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drug lords smuggle large bags of a white substance. Marijuana deliveries are mentioned. Adults drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and marijuana.  


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Speed Kills is based on the true story of a mob-connected speed boat builder and racer. Don Aronow was executed by the mob in 1987 to keep him from talking to federal agents. The movie begins and ends at that murder, with beatings, shoot-outs, blood, and threats flowing through the flashbacks in between. Aronow's high-speed Cigarette boats win races but also appeal to the drug-smuggling and money-laundering community he seeks to evade. The larger-than-life character neglects his family and has many affairs. Sex scenes are brief and clothed. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bastard," "bitch," "pr--k," and "ass." Adults smoke cigarettes and marijuana and drink alcohol. Note that Speed Kills VR Experience is a 60-minute virtual reality app with the same cast that was shot at the same time and not under review here. 

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What's the story?

In SPEED KILLS, John Travolta plays Ben Aronoff, a character based on Don Aronow, a charismatic speed boat builder and racer with mob ties he couldn't shake. Those ties helped him end up dead in 1987. No spoiler alert necessary, as this film opens with his murder, then flashes back 25 years. Fictional Aronoff is dealing with the fearsome real-life mobster Meyer Lansky, one-time king of Cuban casinos until Castro gained power and kicked him out. He's an old friend of Ben's family, and when Ben leaves the New Jersey construction trade and tries to go straight by starting from scratch in Miami, Lansky threateningly makes offers Ben can't refuse. So, while Aronoff is famed in the speed boat world, he's also beholden to dangerous people and forced to deliver smuggled drugs and drug money. Aronoff is cocky and arrogant, which doesn't help when Lansky dies, as he's made an enemy of the nephew taking over the business (Kellan Lutz). Ben is also a ladies' man and takes advantage of long trips away from home for international races to flirt with and bed lots of women, including Emily (Katheryn Winnick), the girlfriend of King Hussein of Jordan, who Ben eventually marries. The DEA comes sniffing after Ben, discovering that he's been forced to sell his boat company to the mob. As vice president George H.W. Bush orders a hundred of Ben's boats for the Coast Guard, the Feds observe with amusement that criminals will be building the boats intended to catch them. 

Is it any good?

There is something fundamentally wrong with this mob movie. Unlike many stories about mobsters -- The Godfather or Goodfellas, for example -- Speed Kills forgoes nitty-gritty details of a rise to power, and relies instead on telling the audience that success has been achieved by playing the same scenes of triumph over and over without letting us also see how that triumph was achieved. Ben seems to become a champion boat racer with no experience racing boats. It might have been interesting to show us how. Ben ignores his children for years, then shows up in the hospital to see his unconscious son, paralyzed after an accident. He tells him, "You're an Aronoff! We fight back! We battle!" It's too little, too late for both the unresponsive son and the audience to know what to do with such tone-deaf advice. 

Other oddities: Meyer Lansky ages, but Ben doesn't. Younger viewers may wonder how a human being could ever become the orangey-brown color they painted Travolta for this role. But it would be surprising if a young audience had any interest, in any case.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about mob movies. Why are they so popular? Why are many people so interested in the mob?

  • What other movies about the mob have you seen? How does Speed Kills compare?

  • The movie is based on a true story. Do you think the movie presents an accurate portrayal of the facts, or were details added or embellished to make the story more entertaining? How can you find out what really happened?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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