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 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 very derivative of the original
(re: bomb, vehicle, frazzled brunette, attractive love interest, etc.). A Speed 3
also exists.......as a Father Ted
episode with the bomb being on a milkfloat
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.
- Action Survivor: Annie, and most of the surviving bus passengers.
- Anger Born of Worry: After Jack's attempt to disarm the bus fails and his cart goes under the wheels, everyone aboard is scared he's been killed. When Ortiz and the others find and successfully rescue him, Annie's first words to Jack are, "You are a complete jerk, you know that?"
- Are You Sure You Can Drive This Thing?: Annie, who had recently lost her license for speeding.
- 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.
- Back from the Dead / Not Quite Dead: Payne at the end of the first act.
- 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.
- Bottle Movie: Aside from the 15-20 minute prologue, the majority of the movie takes place over two hours, practically in real time.
- 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.
- Bus Fu: Most of it less than intentional.
- Bus Full of Innocents: This one shouldn't have to be explained.
- 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.
- Card-Carrying Villain: "The whims of a madman? Ha!! I like that!!"
- Car Skiing: Done using the passengers as a counterbalance to navigate a hard turn.
- Catch Phrase: Pop quiz, hotshot.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- The detonator with the "dead man's handle".
- 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"; Jack realizes there's a camera on-board when he sees Annie's jacket that sports the logo of the University of Arizona, home of the Wildcats.
- Collapsing Lair: Rigged by Payne to explode, killing Harry.
- Contrived Coincidence: The bus also just happens to have a trigger-happy gangbanger on it, who shoots the driver accidentally and allows Annie to take his place.
- Convection Schmonvection: Averted - when the first bus explodes Jack doesn't come closer than ten feet of it and still has to hold his arm up in front of his face.
- Cool Car: That poor Jaguar...
- Cowboy Cop: Jack's the trope namer for Shoot the Hostage, for cryin out loud!
- Crazy Enough to Work: The ultimate plan to get the hostages off the bus.
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: After Jack finds out Harry's been killed, he yells at Payne, "I'm gonna rip your fucking spine out, I swear to God!"
- Deadfoot Leadfoot: Inverted when the bus driver gets shot, played straight when a subway motorman gets killed.
- Dead Man Switch: Payne uses this on his vest bomb.
- Despair Event Horizon: Jack almost crosses it when Harry dies in the raid at Payne's house.
- 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.
- Die Hard on an X: Die Hard on a bus.
- 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.
- Evil Old Folks: Payne.
- 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.
- Failsafe Failure: Happens twice, and they're both Payne's fault.
- 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.
- Flashed Badge Hijack: It doesn't work at first, then Jack draws his gun and gets the car.
- Flaw Exploitation: Averted.
- Flirting Under Fire: Jack and Annie constantly flirt throughout the movie.
- Follow That Car: Part of the Flashed Badge Hijack, above.
- 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 knows better than to think Jack and Harry would be worth a three million dollar ransom, which is why he folds on his first plan after the elevator situation didn't pan out. 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. Curiously, he doesn't consider that the police might throw an ink pack in there, resulting in a lot of ruined money.
- Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: Discussed at the end:
Jack: I have to warn you, I've heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.
Annie: OK. We'll have to base it on sex then.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Stephens repeats Keanu's "Fuck me!" over the phone as "Oh, Darn!"
- Got Volunteered: "Sir, Harry volunteers to examine the device."
- 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 Jack 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 California
- 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.
- Hostage for MacGuffin: Averted. Jack shoots the hostage in the leg to immobilize him.
- Human Shield: Payne uses Harry as one. Jack just shoots Harry (non-fatally, of course).
- 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.
- Jack has negotiated with Payne to take the injured bus driver off the bus. Once he's gone, Helen sneaks by and also tries to leave, causing Payne to blow the steps and send her under the wheels. This isn't necessarily stupid on Helen's part; she's old and in the middle of a nervous breakdown. It is stupid on the part of the cops, who have been told matter of fact that Payne will blow up the bus if anyone gets off yet encourage her rather than immediately pulling away to prevent it.
- 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:
- The armed man on the bus ends up shooting the driver when Ortiz tackles him.
- 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.
- Impressive Pyrotechnics: Goodbye bus and plane. What, you think they were going to waste a perfectly good bus bomb?
- Incredibly Lame Pun:
- Jack explaining to the bus passengers that he is going to try to "defuse" the situation.
- Jack tells Annie that Payne "lost his head".
- Infant Immortality: Played with. See Baby Carriage above.
- Insistent Terminology: Payne: "I'm not crazy — poor people are crazy. I'm eccentric."
- 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.
- Join The Police Force They Said: Discussed by Harry and Jack while Jack is being lowered down the elevator shaft.
Jack: Tell me again, Harry, why did I take this job?
Harry: Oh, come on, thirty more years of this, you get a tiny pension and a cheap gold watch.
- This is actually Payne's motivation for his bombings. He too is a former bomb squad member. When he lost a finger, they let him go with that same pension and watch. He build it into the bus bomb to make a point.
- Kick the Dog:
- Payne's moment comes early on when he kills the security guard by stabbing him in the head.
- Payne later proves his extremity by killing the nervous Helen, after letting the wounded bus driver off the bus.
- Laughably Evil: Payne.
- 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.
- 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. Then again, 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.
- Mad Bomber: Payne.
- Meaningful Echo:
- Harry repeating the "Shoot the Hostage" line to Jack while Payne is using him as a Human Shield.
- Also, "I've heard relationships based on intense experiences never work."
- My God, What Have I Done?: Annie, after being forced to run down a baby carriage... Jack quickly informs her that there was no baby in the carriage, only empty cans.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Howard Payne.
- News Monopoly: Every single news outlet is covering the story of the speeding bus, to the point that they're interfering with public safety. This leads to the decision to route the bus to an airport. Truth in Television for Los Angeles police chases. 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 does have 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.
- The Nineties
- 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. Though given the short time frame and adrenaline, it's reasonable to assume they wouldn't need to or would put it out of mind if they did.
- No One Could Survive That
- No OSHA Compliance: The subway train has neither Dead Man Switch nor overspeed failsafe. And what's with the unfinished freeway with unblocked access ramps?
- Nothing Personal: Said by Payne as he jams a knife into an innocent security guard that blunders into his elevator bomb plot.
- Not So Different:
- Off-the-Shelf FX: It's pretty obvious that the train that runs off the tracks near the end of the movie is a miniature model.
- Off with His Head!: Payne's ultimate fate.
- Oh, Crap:
- At least three different times, usually in response to discovering a bomb.
- One interesting one comes at the end when Payne sees the oncoming signal light.
- Jack drops a Precision F-Strike when he gets a good look at the bomb on the bus. For good reason as "There's enough C4 on this thing to blow a hole in the world."
- Only in It for the Money: Although Payne would wish he did have a higher purpose behind his bomb threats.
- 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.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Payne, who refers to poor people as "crazy".
- Precision F-Strike: All throughout the movie.
- 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)".
- Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Subverted.
- 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 tracks (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: The security guard killed at the beginning and the subway operator near the end both quite literally vanish once killed.
- Red Shirt Army: The SWAT team who are killed by Payne's exploding house.
- Red Right Hand: Payne's malformed hand, caused by holding onto an explosive charge for a wee bit too long.
- Rule of Cool: The bus jump. A rather delightful behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD goes into great detail about how the bus jump is completely impossible in real life.
- Rule of Three: Although the main plot revolves around the bus dilemma, the movie is made up by three cat-and-mouse scenarios with Payne: the elevator, the bus, and the subway finale.
- Runaway Train
- Sacrificial Lion: Jack's partner, Harry Temple, played by Jeff Daniels.
- Sequel Goes Foreign: Speed 2: Cruise Control takes place in the Caribbean.
- Shoot the Hostage: The Trope Namer. Jack (Keanu Reeves) does exactly that near the beginning of the movie when his partner Harry (Jeff Daniels) is held captive by Payne (Dennis Hopper). Payne makes sure he can't do that the next time by strapping his bomb to the hostage instead of himself.
- Shoot Out the Lock
- Slo-Mo Big Air:
- That bus is damn aerodynamic.
- 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. Of course, Payne is just a ex-Bomb Squad member 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.
- Strapped to a Bomb: Annie
- Stuff Blowing Up
- 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.
- Tactful Translation: "Oh darn."
- 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.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Jack describes the amount of C4 on the bus is enough "to put a hole in the world."
- 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.
- Try Not to Die: Da Chief frequently tells people "Don't get dead."
- Two Decades Behind
- Unlucky Extra: The "black guy with a sports car," whose car gets Flashed Badge Hijacked and wrecked by Jack shows up again in the sequel, where his boat gets hijacked, this time by Alex. He's given the name Maurice in the sequel.
- Vapor Trail
- Villainous Breakdown: "YOU BASTAAAAARD! I'M COMING FOR YOU, JACK! AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!"
- Waxing Lyrical: Payne says at one point, "Be prepared! This is the Boys Scout marching song."
- The Wildcats: A major plot point.
- 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.