Keanu Reeves plays Jack Traven, a police officer in pursuit of Mad Bomber Howard Payne, played by Dennis Hopper. As the film opens, Payne has blown the cables off a packed elevator car, and threatens to blow the emergency brakes unless he gets a ransom. Jack foils the scheme, but Payne escapes by faking his own suicide. A few weeks later, Jack's bus driver friend boards his bus to start his daily route, and it promptly explodes. A nearby pay phone starts ringing, Jack answers the phone, and discovers the caller is Payne. The first bombing was just to get Jack's attention; there's another bus with a bomb on it, and the same fate will befall those aboard if he doesn't get his original ransom.Caught in the middle is Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock in her Star-Making Role) as a passenger/hostage/love interest on the bus. Payne has, as the quote above indicates, placed a bomb on the bus she's riding. If the bus drops below 50... well, you get the idea. So, the the bus must careen wildly through a city notorious for its traffic congestion, and if anyone attempts to leave the bus (under their own power or otherwise)... boom.One final complication: When Jack gets on the bus and announces he's a cop, there's a street gangster on board who wrongly assumes Jack's after him and draws a gun. The gun goes off, wounding the bus driver. It's then up to Annie to take the wheel and keep the bus above 50 mph. Good thing she's a skilled driver... No, wait, she's a horrendous driver with a revoked license.Noted for being very tense (Keanu Reeves has to first board the bus before he can warn the passengers, which nearly causes the very explosion he's attempting to prevent), and for having a lesser-known sequel, Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997), which again starred Sandra Bullock (this time in the primary role), and was widely panned for being veryderivative of the original (re: bomb, vehicle, frazzled brunette, attractive love interest, etc.).Also notable in troperville for being written in part by Joss Whedon, who went uncredited despite a lot of the dialogue being his.
This film provides examples of:
Action Insurance Gag: Jack Traven needs to get onto the bus, and having commandeered a car, he decides to jump from the car to the bus, but the door is in the way. Jack asks the owner if his car is insured, to which he answers in the affirmative, whereupon Jack reverses the car with the door open straight into the bus, breaking the door off. The owner is suitably upset.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The monitors in Payne's hideout has multiple TV news feeds, the camera onboard the bus, and...a football game, which at one point he diverts his attention to entirely.
Artistic License - Physics: The bus side-swipes a car on the shoulder, which is being loaded onto a tow truck. Somehow this imparts enough momentum to send the car up the back of the truck and launch it through the air.
Likewise, the bus somehow manages to jump an unfinished bridge, despite the fact that there was nothing that could actually launch it. The Making Of documentary pointed this out.
When making the turn the fear of the bus tipping over was uncalled for - this was shown on an episode of MythBusters, also covering the bus jump. It was Busted. There's no way the bus would have made it even WITH a launch ramp, let alone without one.
That little cart Jack uses to go under the bus would have had to be very, very, very heavy to stay down on the ground while being towed at 50+ MPH. Given it is made of metal, but doubtful it was designed to be used at such speeds for the purpose of looking under speeding buses.
Ax-Crazy: Howard Payne, although he defines himself as "eccentric."
Baby Carriage: Subverted. It gets taken out by the bus, but turns out to be filled with aluminum cans.
Best Served Cold: Payne, who took one look at his tiny severance package and went a little bit nuts.
Big "NO!": Payne after realizing he's been had by the Camera Spoofing. As well as later on the train when his ransom money is ruined by an exploding dye pack.
Blown Across the Room: Jack when Payne fakes his own death by explosion. Curiously averted with Harry, who was much closer to the explosion than Jack and yet doesn't move an inch (and BOTH of them are completely unharmed by the blast).
Bond One-Liner: "Yeah? Well, I'm taller." from Jack. "Nothing personal" from Payne.
Bottomless Magazines: Averted. Payne has Traven dead-to-rights and tries to execute him, but he's out of rounds for his shotgun.
Brass Balls: When Jack Traven survives one of the many death defying moments he encounters over the course of the film a passenger cheerfully informs him:
Ortiz: You're not too bright, man, but you got some big, round, hairy cojones.
Butt Monkey: Glenn Plummer's character from who Jack borrows a car (which he wrecks). In the sequel, he claims that he's just bought a condo, only for it to be destroyed.
Camera Spoofing: The police fake out Payne's bus camera by transmitting recorded footage on the same frequency. Traven specifically tells everyone to remain as still as possible to make sure it works. It does, but after everyone's off the bus, Payne catches on because one passenger put down her purse in the middle of the video.
Harry telling Jack that after another thirty years of police work, he'll get a tiny pension and a cheap gold watch.
The watch on the bus bomb.
When Jack is on top of the subway train, he has to noisily move from an oncoming tunnel light. However, this results in Payne finding out his whereabouts. A few minutes later, after his money is tainted by the paint bomb, Payne ascends to the top of the train and fights Jack . During the fight, Jack notices another tunnel light heading their way, so he pushes up Payne's head, resulting in the light beheading him.
Payne referring to Annie as "the wildcat behind the wheel".
The monitors in Payne's hideout that are showing football games, revealing he's a football fanatic. This is why he calls Annie a "wildcat" because of the sports logo on her jacket.
Didn't Think This Through: Harry when he tells Jack to shoot him while Payne is using him as a Human Shield. While it does cause Payne to drop him, Harry isn't too happy about being shot and lets Jack know it.
Double Take: When Jack (still in Maurice's car) is trying to get Sam the bus driver's attention:
Jack: (yelling) I'm a cop! LAPD! There's a bomb on your bus! There is a bomb on your bus!
Sam: (can't hear him) What?
Maurice: (yelling) There's a bomb - WHAT?
Drives Like Crazy: Mostly averted. All the difficulties come from maintaining speed. However, Annie loses her license for speeding before the first movie starts (which is why she's taking the bus in the first place).
Elevator Failure: Payne blows the cables on a packed elevator, then wants $3 million or he blows the emergency brakes and kills the passengers.
Eureka Moment: When Jack, in the middle of his Heroic BSOD, notices Annie's jacket. It's a University of Arizona jacket; Payne had been referring to her as a "wildcat" the whole time; this tips Jack that Payne has had a camera on-board the whole time.
Evil Is Hammy: In a role that's practically written for Dennis Hopper.
Explosive Leash: First used on Harry, then on Annie at the end of the film.
Face-Heel Turn: Payne sort of falls into this. Even though he's never shown on the good side, it's revealed that he was a bomb squad cop who got discharged from the force after he was wounded in an explosion and is making his bomb threats and demanding the ransoms because he feels, as he tells Jack, that he spent his life earning the money.
Fanservice Extra: When the SWAT team are rescuing people from an office building elevator that's about to drop, one of the passengers is a brunette in a brown business suit. As they help her down, her skirt rides up revealing a white thong. Everybody in the elevator is credited at the end of the cast credits as "Elevator Passengers", so there's no easy way to tell which actress this is. Although, someone on IMDB believes that it's Paige Goodman.
Fire-Forged Friends: Stephens and Gigantor don't like each other very much throughout most of the crisis, but by the time they finally get off the bus, they're both locked in a bro-hug.
From Bad to Worse: Jack has to board a bus that is now armed and will explode if it goes below fifty, the bus driver is injured by an armed and unstable passenger, the group is forced into a crowded street, forced onto an unfinished highway where one of the passengers is killed by Payne and there is unfinished gap in the road forcing them to jump, Jack ruptures the fuel tank trying to disarm the bomb, Harry is killed in trap set by Payne, the passengers get off the bus, only for Payne to escape with Annie as hostage onto a subway car, and after Payne is decapitated, Annie and Jack are stuck on a subway with no emergency exit. Jesus.
Game-Breaking Injury: To the bus, when Jack punches a hole in the gas tank trying to keep from getting run over.
Genre Savvy: Payne is enough to say "Nobody would pay me three million dollars just for Jack".
He's also savvy enough to get the ransom money from the trash can from a hole below it, as opposed to just walking up to it on the street with a load of police watching. But not enough to think of the police rigging the moneybag with traceable ink)
Gut Feeling: Category II: Jack reads the elevator situation and intuits that Payne will kill the hostages even if they pay up and decides they need to be rescued ASAP. Harry is reluctant ("Mac outranks your gut, so we wait"), but goes along and they do indeed save everyone. In the third act of the movie, Jack again knows that Payne is up to something when he hasn't shown up to take the ransom.
Heroic BSOD: Jack has a brief meltdown after Payne informs him that he killed Harry.
He's Back: When he notices the University of Arizona logo on Annie's sweatshirt and realizes that's why Howard's been calling her a wildcat this whole time.
High Concept: It doesn't come much higher-concept when you can have the villain outline the whole plot in one line of dialogue.
Hollywood Healing: Though Harry is seen using a crutch to get around in the aftermath of Jack shooting him in the leg, by the time the main plot of the film kicks off, he's healed completely enough to be part of a SWAT team assault. The time between this and his wounding is unspecified, but not hinted to be more than a few weeks/months at best.
Idiot Ball: Jack only goes for his badge to show the driver after the bus has already begun to speed up and drive away. If he'd grabbed it and shown it to the driver first, the bus would have likely stopped.
The cops neglecting to turn the tracker in the money on as soon as it's in place (one of the squad members assumes that there's no way Payne can get to the money with all the eyes on it). The writers themselves call this one out in the commentary.
I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: When Jack shoots out the lock in the subway station, without knowing what is behind what he's shooting at (a crowd of people screaming and running), in violation of one of the key rules of gun safety. Granted, he's in a bit of a hurry, but even so.
Tackling the armed man who was already on the bus wounds the bus driver.
Ironic Echo: The "pop quiz" line from Harry is repeated twice by Payne to Jack. Jack later attempts to use it on Payne as one, but it backfires badly when it turns out he's actually talking to Annie with a bomb strapped to her. Payne then repeats the "Shoot the hostage" line to Jack by telling him "I don't think you can shoot her."
I Shall Return: At the airport, Jack manages to convince Payne to let him off the bus to arrange the ransom. The other passengers are obviously unenthusiastic at being left behind, but Jack answers "Don't worry, I won't go far." A few minutes later, the hostages look in amazement to see Jack in front of them being towed on a service cart to attempt to disarm the bomb while the bus is in motion.
Lawman Gone Bad: Howard Payne was a former member of the Atlanta PD bomb squad, who turned Mad Bomber after being forcibly retired, due to an accident which injured his hand. But he was ineligible to collect his pension. Howard did not take this well.
Jack: (over phone) "Why didn't you just come after me?"
The Main Characters Do Everything: When Jack gets off the bus at the airport, he goes under the bus on a speeding cart to look at and try to disarm the bomb, not any of the other present policemen. Granted - he could have been the only bomb expert there - but the LAPD had had plenty of time to pool other resources on the highway and at the airport.
Granted, it's entirely possible he was the only officer crazy enough to volunteer to slide underneath a moving bus with a bomb attached to it.
Later subverted in that the media plays a significant part in resolving the matter. The news teams agree to stop filming from the airport boundaries, and one crew creates the looping footage on police request.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Payne's entire motivation is that the police stiffed him out the pension he deserved and gave him a pathetic retirement gift, despite years of dedicated service and risking his life daily as a member of the bomb squad. To be fair, he doeshave a point.
While examining the bomb under the bus, Jack almost gets crushed and is forced to stick his screwdriver into something so that he can hang on. Unfortunately, that something happens to be the fuel tank.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: If Payne hadn't referred to Annie as "the wildcat behind the wheel", Jack never would have realized there was a camera on the bus, and the police would never have been able to loop the footage.
Nobody Poops: Averted. Payne is shown coming out of his bathroom, which is important because it keeps him from noticing the looped camera feed on the bus when it's executed.
Played straight on the bus. It would be a little excessive to think no one had to pee.
Not when you consider the relatively short time frame—2 hours—and that everyone's adrenaline is probably kicking full-force. During the "fight or flight" response triggered by a release of adrenaline the last thing on anyone's conscious or subconscious mind is the need to use the bathroom.
Panty Shot: When one of the female hostages is being helped off the elevator by the SWAT team her skirt rides up and we get a shot of her butt wearing white panties. On the DVD Commentary, the filmmakers say this was a "happy accident".
Police Are Useless: Subverted, in that the police are on top of the situation immediately with an escort, mapping a survivable route from a following police helicopter and blocking off side streets to give the boobytrapped bus a clear path. It helps that a fellow off-duty cop is on board.
Product Placement: The bus is covered with ads for Santa Monica Bank, which aren't out of place, as that bank heavily advertises on the Big Blue Bus system. The one on the rear is somewhat meaningful: "Money isn't everything. (Yeah, right)".
Ramming Always Works: Jack and Annie somehow survive an impending crash on a runaway subway car by making it faster. Speeding up made it jump the tracks on a turn so it was running for awhile unpowered. While a bit of a stretch, this could be considered preferable to staying on the stracks (and being powered the whole time) and crashing into a dead end wall that is more fortified.
The near half-dozen times Annie has to plough through traffic in order to maintain speed.
Red Shirt Army: The SWAT team who are killed by Payne's exploding house.
Red Shirt: The security guard killed at the beginning and the subway operator near the end both quite literally vanish once killed.
Red Right Hand: Payne's malformed hand, caused by holding onto an explosive charge for a wee bit too long.
The subway car's launch is pretty impressive, too.
Smug Snake: Payne. He thinks he's a Magnificent Bastard; always one step ahead. But then he gets so overconfident that he fails to monitor his screen when one minute of footage is being looped over and over in place of what's actually happening. And then later, he climbs on top of a subway train in blind rage, and gets beheaded as a result.
He also doesn't seem to consider the possibility that maybe the police aren't going to just give him millions of dollars without rigging a trap to try and trace it / him.
However, Payne is just a normal ex-cop who's only real training was in how to disarm bombs. In fact, it's only the bomb part of his plan that goes off without a hitch, while everything else in his plan falls apart rather quickly.
Survivor Guilt: Annie has a bout of this after the booby trap on the bus steps kills a passenger, confessing that she first thought it was the bus's true bomb that had detonated and feeling horrible that she was relieved to still be alive. Jack does a swift and skilled job in removing the guilt from her mind.
Technology Marches On: Jack having to take the cell phone of the driver of the car he hijacks before getting on the bus was believable in 1994. A little odd today, since Jack would most likely have his own, as would probably every passenger on the bus.
Token Romance: Triple subverted, and arguably deconstructed, over the course of the two films. Annie initially insists that they are a bad idea, as "relationships based on intense circumstances never work out". At the end of the film, Jack throws this back in her face as a Meaningful Echo, to which she replies "I guess we'll have to base it on sex then", and they decide to pursue the relationship anyway. But the start of the second film reveals that the relationship didn't work out, just as Annie initially predicted.
Too Dumb to Live: It is hard to comprehend the kind of panic and fear a bystander must feel in that situation, but if an LAPD officer tells you that A) there's a bomb on the bus but also B) no one can leave, there's probably a good reason why. Predictably, a scared lady tries to get off onto a LAPD safety car, and is killed by one of Payne's booby traps. What makes it worse is that the cops on the safety car are encouraging her and reaching to help her, despite knowing that Payne has forbidden it.
Wire Dilemma: Subverted in that Jack finds out he is unable to cut any wire because of the complex nature of the bomb.
You're Insane!: Payne has a comeback for this one: Poor people are insane - he's eccentric.
Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Averted. Payne has Jack at his mercy in the elevator and does try to just shoot him, but he's out of ammo. He later shoots at Jack with a submachine gun, but runs out of ammo before he can hit him.
Played straight in the third act leading to the train sequence.