By Leah Rozen
June 23, 1997 12:00 PM

Sandra Bullock, Jason Patric

Call this one dead in the water. Like the mammoth cruise ship on which the movie is set, Speed 2: Cruise Control is big, bulky and going nowhere. Even the film’s climactic showpiece fails to wow: The ship plows head-on into a dock populated by hundreds of startled tourists, then takes out row after row of flimsy condominiums (which, oddly, have neither residents nor furnishings). It seems to have traveled the width of the island by the time it finally lurches to a stop. But then we get an overhead view, and half the ship is still in the harbor. Say what?

It’s all very disappointing. The original Speed, released in 1994 and starring Bullock and Keanu Reeves, was an intense, often droll, humdinger of an action film. Speed 2, which reteams director Jan De Bont (who also did Twister) with leading lady Bullock, seems like just another obligatory sequel. Reeves was smart to bail out. His stand-in here, the ever stolid Patric, plays a Los Angeles cop who heads up the gangplank for a romantic, week-long cruise with girlfriend Bullock. Once onboard, Bullock purrs, “This almost seems too perfect.” Good call, oh prescient star. Before she can order a second drink with a paper umbrella sticking out of it, a disgruntled fellow passenger (Willem Dafoe, so intense he sticks leeches to his own chest) has tapped into the ship’s computer system and hijacked the boat. It’s up to Patric and Bullock, with a little help from the crew, to get everyone safely back to dry land.

What’s most galling about Speed 2 is its almost laughable sexism. Except for a scene in which she wields a mean chain saw, Bullock spends the movie flapping her arms helplessly and cautioning Patric to “Be careful” while he does all the heroic heavy lifting. It’s a shame, since a great deal of the appeal of the first Speed was how well Bullock measured up to the high-speed bus-driving duties that were thrust upon her. Here, Bullock is left trying vainly to inject humor and hints of spunk where she can. The effort shows. (PG-13)