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Film / Speed

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"Pop quiz, hotshot. There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?"

A 1994 American action thriller film directed by Jan de Bont, starring Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, and Sandra Bullock.

Reeves plays Jack Traven, a police officer in pursuit of Mad Bomber Howard Payne (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 manages to escape 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, killing him. A nearby pay phone starts ringing, and when Jack answers it he discovers the caller is Payne. Turns out 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 Payne doesn't get his original ransom.

Caught in the middle is Annie Porter (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 MPH... 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 manages to get aboard 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 moving 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 (Jack has to first board the bus before he can warn the passengers, which nearly causes the very explosion he's attempting to prevent), its sharp, witty dialogue (written in large part by an uncredited Joss Whedon), and patently ridiculous yet exciting plot points and setpieces (at one point, the bus jumps a 50-foot gap in the road) which all helped contribute to its reputation as one of the best action films of the '90s. Also has 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 a Father Ted episode with the bomb being on a milkfloat.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Insurance Gag: Jack needs to get onto the bus, and, having commandeered a car, he decides to jump from the car to the bus, but the car's door is in the way. Jack asks the owner if his car is insured, to which he answers in the affirmative, whereupon Jack brake-checks the bus with the door open, 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 – Geography:
    • The freeway depicted as I-10 at the start of Annie's ride is actually I-105, which was already completed during filming. The I-105 jump sequence was filmed on the I-110/I-105 interchange (southbound 110 to westbound 105), which actually was unfinished at the time.
    • The bus exits the east I-10 freeway onto Western (south) using a cloverleaf ramp that doesn't exist in Real Life, then goes from there to the I-105 in El Segundo (around 18 miles away) in under a minute.
  • 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. MythBusters demonstrates that there's no way the bus would have made it even with a launch ramp, let alone without one. As well, even if it had, everyone would have been severely injured by the impact—without seatbelts, they would have been thrown into the air and smacked into the ceiling of the bus, breaking their necks and/or backs. Landing would have broken anything that wasn't broken yet, like their legs. The stuntman who drove the bus was securely strapped in to prevent precisely this.
    • When making the turn, the fear of the bus tipping over was uncalled for. MythBusters covered this along with the bus jump.
    • 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. Granted, it is made of metal, but it's 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 beer 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.
  • 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 (admittedly he shoots more rounds from the shotgun than he should, firing eight times from a six-round tube magazine). He also empties the magazine on his sub-machinegun while trying to kill Jack on the subway, forcing him to climb on the roof in an attempt kill Jack by hand.
  • 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.
    Jack: That's...real gross, Ortiz.
  • 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 whom 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: Payne has set up a camera in the bus to spy on his potential victims. The police fake out Payne's 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 dropped her purse in the middle of the video.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Payne quite enjoys the media's depiction of him.
    News Anchor: [...] The two dead are a female passenger and the driver of another bus, both blown up by the bomber. And the other people in jeopardy are, of course, the passengers of the bus, held hostage at the whim of a madman.
    Payne: (chuckles) "The whim of a madman!" I like that!
  • Car Skiing: Done using the passengers as a counterbalance to navigate a hard turn.
  • Catchphrase: "Pop quiz, hotshot." Becomes a Phrase Catcher when Jack gets the line from Harry and Payne.
  • Character Development: Subtle, but Stephens, the wimpy tourist starts off as rather annoying and usually providing unhelpful commentary from the sidelines, but as the situation escalates, he tries to pull his weight a little more, such as checking underneath the bus when it looks like Jack's been pulled under.
  • 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 gold 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.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: While not really an F-bomb, it's an S-bomb courtesy of Tuneman, the Jaguar owner.
    Tuneman: Whoa shit! Whoa shit! WHOA SHIT!
  • 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.
    • The police try to trick Payne by finding the video feed from the CCTV camera in the bus, looping it and sending it to Payne. He doesn't notice the change because he just so happened to go to the bathroom just as they were making the switch.
  • 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...
    • Also the big oversized truck with all the cops on the long flatbed with more than enough room to carry all the passengers, if the villain was not intent on keeping them on the bus.
  • Cop Killer: Howard Payne, who despite being a former policeman himself has absolutely no reservations about killing fellow officers. When Harry nails his identity and address, he's already wired the place to blow, killing Harry and perhaps every other officer on his team in the process.
  • 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.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Payne is prepared for virtually every contingency, something Jack catches on to. When he diverts to the airport so Payne won't be able to monitor them through the news, he refuses to evacuate the bus because he's sure Payne has accounted for that possibility and will know if they try.
  • Cringe Comedy: Alan Ruck's character Doug provides a lot of it.
  • 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!"
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Despite losing a thumb and retiring early on disability, Howard Payne's injury clearly doesn't affect his ability to build bombs or use firearms. With his knowledge of bombs, he could've found legal work as a consultant or an instructor for police departments and Governments throughout the world. Or as a technical consultant for the movie industry. Given the incredible build quality he puts into his bombs, he could've built a business making bespoke (and legal) electronic devices. Granted he wouldn't have gotten his $3-million quickly, but he could've made a comfortable living and retired with substantial retirement savings.
  • Da Chief: Capt. "Mac" McMahon, whether he is guiding the booby-trapped bus from a chopper, or riding on a speeding flatbed truck with only one handhold, he is the kind of calm, cool, and collected superior police officer a hero cop like Traven needs to see this crisis through.
  • Deadfoot Leadfoot: Inverted when the bus driver gets shot, played straight when a subway motorman gets killed even though train cars are designed specifically to prevent this.
  • Dead Man's Switch:
    • Payne uses this on his vest bomb. He uses the threat of dropping it — either as a consequence of his death or intentionally just to spite Jack — to get Jack to back off in instances where Jack would otherwise kill him or have a physical advantage.
    • Ironically, the one on the subway does not work after Payne machine-guns the panel while killing the driver.
  • Defiant to the End: In the opening sequence, Payne manages to take Harry hostage and Harry tells him "fuck you". This trope is then discussed because Payne laments that modern people can't seem to think of a better "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner than that.
    Payne: In two hundred years, we've come from "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country" to "fuck you"?!
  • 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.
    • Also Payne's Evil Plan isn't very well thought-out. He deliberately lets Jack on the bus just to fuck with him, thus giving Jack the opportunity to foil his plans. And even without Jack's involvement, there's no way the LAPD would fork over that much cash without a way to trace it and/or ruin it, e.g. the tracking device and dye bomb.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: The movie's premise is basically Die Hard on a bus.
  • Disposable Pilot:
    • Played straight with the first driver killed, even though he was apparently a friend of Jack's. Payne even lampshades this, saying that he did it purely to upset him.
    • Subverted with Sam, who is shot but presumably survives. However, it does provide the perfect excuse to get him off the bus and let Annie take over.
    • Played straight at the end, when Payne not only kills the train conductor, no one in the crowd even notices his body.
  • 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).
  • Early-Bird Cameo: The driver of the black Jaguar can briefly be spotted as Jack speeds onto the highway, and catches up just in time for Jack to take control of his car.
  • Elevator Failure: Payne blows the cables on a packed elevator, then wants $3 million or he blows the emergency brakes and kills the passengers.
  • Emergency Refuelling: When Jack stabs a hole in the bus's fuel tank, he tries to call in a fuel truck to keep the bus going. Unfortunately, there's no way they can get a fuel truck out in time given the rate of fuel loss, so the protagonists must figure out a way to get everyone off the bus before the fuel runs out and the bus drops below 50 mph.
    Annie: We're leaking gas?
    Jack: Yeah.
    Annie: What, did you need another challenge?!
  • "Eureka!" Moment:
    • As Harry is discussing Payne's unusual behavior, he thinks out loud that Payne knows every method the bomb squad uses to disarm bombs, then realizes Payne must have worked as a bomb squad member.
    • Payne repeatedly refers to Annie as a "wildcat," but Jack only realizes its significance, in the middle of his Heroic BSoD, when he notices Annie's jacket. It's a jacket from University of Arizona, home of the Wildcats; this tips off Jack that Payne can see her jacket, meaning that he's had a camera on-board the whole time.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: For all his terror and destruction, Payne is genuinely offended by the decidedly generic way Harry stood up to him in the face of an explosive end, and he angrily laments how badly America's patriotic fervor has decayed in his day.
    Payne: In two hundred years, we've come from "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country" to "fuck you"?!
  • Evil Is Hammy: In a role that's practically written for Dennis Hopper.
  • Evil Is Petty: Jack speculates that Payne will detonate the elevator bomb money or no, a gut feeling he gets based on Payne's behavior thus far. It's hard to say if Jack's right under the circumstances — Payne is twitchy enough to drop the elevator when he suspects the police are up to something — but Payne is definitely petty enough to kill cops for no reason after being foiled in that attempt.
  • Evil Old Folks: Payne, a retired police officer.
  • Explosive Leash: First used on Harry, then on Annie at the end of the film.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Most of the first act of the film (the elevator job) takes place over the course of two hours. Immediately after the elevator job, there's a Time Skip of an unspecified length to the day the police receive their medals for the elevator job. The second act begins the following morning, and the rest of the film takes place over about four hours.
  • 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: Subverted twice and they're both Payne's fault:
    • The failsafes on the elevator work as expected, but Payne has rigged those to explode, too, so he would be able to drop the elevator whenever he wants.
    • Payne machine-gunning the metro train's conductor also shoots up most of the controls, including the brakes and (apparently, and quite ironically) the deadman's switch.
  • Faking the Dead: When Payne's elevator plan falls through and he can't use Harry as a hostage, he sets off an explosion to make the cops think he blew himself up.
  • 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.
  • Faux Affably Evil: When Payne isn't spouting sadistic pop-quizzes, he typically addresses Jack like a joking, teasing uncle would his favourite nephew, but there's no hiding the mocking condescension in his voice especially when he mocks Jack over Harry's death.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Stephens and Ortiz 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.
    Maurice: This is my car! It's not stolen...
    Jack: (drawing gun) It is now. Move over.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: We see the black Jaguar that Jack commandeers when he first drives onto the freeway.
  • Flirting Under Fire: Jack and Annie constantly flirt throughout the movie.
  • Follow That Car: Part of the Flashed-Badge Hijack, above.
  • Foreign Remake: Of the 1975 Japanese film The Bullet Train, in which the action is set on a bullet train, right down to the "don't slow down to this speed or else you blow up" warning.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Jack warns Payne that there will be fifty cops waiting for him in the basement should he try to escape, Payne notes that this is "standard flanking deployment". His familiarity with SWAT procedure is an early clue that he's a retired cop.
    • Helen's anxiety which ultimately leads to her death is established earlier in a conversation with Annie, when she says she gets tense driving on the freeway, hence why she takes the bus.
    • At one point, Payne mockingly tells Jack to remember that he's "always on top of him". Jack later discovers that Payne can see them through a wireless camera installed on top of the bus driver's mirror.
  • Freak Out: Jack briefly loses it when Payne kills Harry. Annie manages to talk him down.
  • From Bad to Worse: The Movie;
    1. Jack is unable to board the bus before it gets on the freeway; he's panicking so much that he breaks the glass door running alongside it, scaring the driver, who takes Annie's advice and drives away before he gets a look at Jack's badge.
    2. Jack is able to Flashed-Badge Hijack a fast car, but is unable to catch the bus before it goes over fifty, arming the bomb.
    3. He is able to inform the driver about the bomb via a written message that luckily flies against the window long enough to read it, but he then has jump on board - all without letting the bus drop below fifty.
    4. The bus driver is injured by an armed and unstable passenger, and the only other driver available is a woman riding due to a suspended license... for speeding.
    5. The bus is forced into a crowded street, where dodging pedestrians Too Dumb to Live (crossing right after a speeding police escort?!) puts them in increasing danger of triggering the bomb or tipping over on hairpin turns.
    6. Hope Spot: The bus finds a finished but unopened highway, enabling the bus driver to be taken off the bus - but one of the passengers attempts to leave and is killed by Payne.
    7. The highway is not in fact finished, forcing them to jump a fifty-foot gap.
    8. Hope Spot #2: Jack gets the bus to LAX, where it is able to circle the runways freely. Then things go completely wrong; Jack ruptures the fuel tank trying to disarm the bomb and Harry is killed in trap set by Payne.
    9. ...then Jack realizes that Payne is monitoring the interior of the bus by camera, which enables them to evacuate the bus via Camera Spoofing. Payne isn't even aware when the bus blows up, enabling them to attempt to capture him at the ransom dropoff.
    10. ...and then Payne realizes that the bus blew up, kidnaps Annie, and wires her with explosives to use her to collect the ransom.
    11. Jack pursues Payne and Annie onto a subway car, suckers him onto the roof, then finally decapitates him with a signal light.
    12. Finally, he reunites with Annie, only to find she's still handcuffed to a subway pole because Payne was carrying the key. And they're running out of track. And the brakes are broken. Jesus.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: To the bus, when Jack punches a hole in the gas tank trying to keep from getting run over.
    Annie: What's that smell?
    Jack: It's gas.
    Annie: We're leaking gas?!
    Jack: We are now.
    Annie: What, did you feel like you needed another challenge or something?
  • 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."
  • Guilt Complex: A mild case where Annie confesses that she was profoundly relieved when a panicking woman was killed by a secondary bomb when she tried to disembark instead of her, thinking for a split second that was the primary bomb that could have killed them all. Jack reassures her that reaction is a perfectly acceptable human response to such an extreme situation and she has nothing to feel guilty about.
  • 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.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: In most of the scenes with SWAT teams, they are not wearing helmets. One exception is the raid on Payne's house.
  • Heroic BSoD: Jack has a brief meltdown after Payne informs him that he killed Harry.
  • Hero's Evil Predecessor: Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) to Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves), a former member of the Atlanta PD bomb squad, turned mad bomber. This becomes central to the plot as Payne not only uses his extensive knowledge of explosives and police procedure to stay two steps ahead of Jack and his friend, Harry, he tries to convince Jack that they're not so different. It doesn't work.
    Payne: (over the phone) Why are they messing with me? Do they think I'm doing this for fun?!
    Jack: Aren't you?
    Payne: (offended) Oh! That's not fair, Jack. You don't know how I feel. You don't even know me.
    Jack: (seething) I know you want a shitload of money you didn't earn.
    Payne: (pissed) Oh, I earned it. See, I was like you once. They gave me a medal too. A medal, a pinkslip, and a, "sorry about your hand"!!
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face:
    • The armed man on the bus ends up accidentally 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 except for the driver they've been authorized to take, yet encourage her rather than immediately pulling away to prevent it.
    • Payne referring to Annie as a "wildcat" leads to Jack realizing he has a camera on the bus. This one can be chalked up to pure arrogance.
    • 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.
    • Payne is so ecstatic over finally having his bag of money that he neglects to consider that it has been rigged with a dye pack. The dye pack exploding takes him completely by surprise, leading to him wasting all his ammo trying to shoot Jack, then going atop the moving train to confront him. He dies from head decapitation when Jack stays calm and collected and outsmarts him by holding his head up.
    • Even if Payne manages to escape with the money, it isn't clear what Payne's plans are after his ill-gotten payday. Payne would have to deal with being on the FBI's Most Wanted list and would hardly be able to rest dealing with being one of the most wanted fugitives in the nation. True, Payne has a major chip on his shoulder against the LAPD but his longterm plans appear sketchy at best.
  • 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".
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played with. See Baby Carriage above.
  • Insistent Terminology: Payne: "I'm not crazy — poor people are crazy. I'm eccentric."
  • Insult Backfire:
    • Jack has one for Payne after the elevator bomb plan is foiled.
      Payne: There will come a time, boy, when you wish you never met me.
      Jack: Mister, I'm already there.
    • Payne is amused by the news coverage of himself.
      Payne: "The whim of a madman," I like that!
  • 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."
  • It's Personal: As much as Payne rants about the money, the bus bomb is also his way of punishing Jack for foiling his first plot, which Payne spent years on. This ends up being his undoing, because in his rage and arrogance he gives away his identity.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Payne's moment comes early on when he kills the worker who walked in on him by stabbing him in the head.
    • Twenty minutes later, he blows up a bus with a driver on board for no better reason than to get Jack's attention.
    • Payne later proves his extremity by killing the nervous Helen, after letting the wounded bus driver off the bus.
    • Payne deliberately left clues in the design of the bus bomb so the cops would figure out his identity, track down his house, and be blown up by the trap he left there.
  • The Lancer: Older Sidekick Harry Temple.
  • Large Ham: Dennis Hopper is in rare form in this one.
  • 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.
    Jack: (over phone) Why didn't you just come after me?
    Payne: (scoffs) You?! This isn't about you, this is about ME!! It's about my money! This is about money due ME! Which I WILL collect!
  • The Load: Averted, the civilians caught in both the elevator and bus situations help one another out whenever they can; some of the executives pull a woman up from a hole in the elevator, Annie takes over the bus when the driver is shot,three women tend the driver's gunshot wound, Ortiz, the big construction worker helps get the driver off the bus and saves Jack from being pulled under the bus, even Stephens, the wimpy tourist checks under the bus when Jack's in danger.
  • Low Clearance: This is how the bad guy meets his end. As he and the protagonist are fighting on the top of a runaway subway train, he gets clocked by an overhead light, chopping off his head.
  • Lured into a Trap: Payne deliberately engineers the bus bomb with his retirement watch so the police would figure out his identity and track him down, leading them into a bobby-trapped house. As he lampshades to Jack after the fact, he wanted them to figure it out, but couldn't just write his name on a sign.
  • Mad Bomber: Howard Payne. Justified because he used to be a bomb squad member of Atlanta PD, and thus this is the method of destruction he's most experienced with.
  • 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.
    • Also, when they figure out Payne's identity, Harry leads the S.W.A.T. team to his house despite still recovering from his gunshot wound.
  • 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."
  • Mistaken for Racist: When Jack attempts to Flashed-Badge Hijack an expensive sports car, the black driver's initial reaction is to insist that the car is not stolen, but indeed his own (he's probably sick of being profiled). Jack points a gun at him and says it's being stolen now.
  • 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, his feelings are understandable, though it doesn't excuse everything he's done for the money.
    • When the police and a news crew are recording footage from the bus to loop and trick Payne, Jack tells the passengers that they need to sit very still with no big movements. Despite that, one of the passengers drops her purse, which shows up on the loop; even worse, she's sitting right behind Jack and Annie so it's quite noticeable. Payne eventually spots it and realises he's been tricked, the bus didn't blow up the hostages and the LAPD are on his trail.
    • 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.
    • Standard procedure as it may be, sneaking a paint bomb into Payne's sack full of cash doesn't do Jack any favors when Payne accidentally triggers it, sending him into a violent Villainous Breakdown, though one could argue that putting Payne into berserker mode means he can no longer out-think Jack, which ultimately results in his death by low clearance.
    • A minor one. On the freeway when Jack's "bomb on bus" note flies to the bus driver, seeing it scared him into slowing down and nearly setting off the bomb.
  • 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 Nicknamer: Jack, calls Ortiz "Gigantor".
  • The '90s: The film's setting.
  • 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.
  • Non-Fatal Explosions: In the first act where Payne has an explosive vest and takes Harry hostage. There's enough explosives to blow a commercial door off its hinges and nobody, not even Payne, gets injured from the blast. Oddly, this gets ruled as a suicide despite Payne being shown unscathed not long after.
  • Noodle Incident: When Jack announces he's LAPD, one of the passengers becomes nervous. When Jack finally boards the bus, he tries to explain that that the situation will be resolved quickly and calmly, but the nervous man pulls out a gun, and demands to be let off. Jack talks him down saying that he's not there to arrest him for whatever crime he committed, but Ortiz decides to act, and in the scuffle Sam the driver gets shot.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The subway train has neither Dead Man's Switch nor overspeed failsafe. And what's with the unfinished freeway with unblocked access ramps?
    • Averted in the prologue with the elevator. This is one of the few movies that actually acknowledges that elevators have emergency brakes that would stop them if the cables are cut. Unfortunately, the bomber has thought of those.
  • 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" Remark:
    • Used by Jack during his Mexican Standoff with the criminal on the bus too get him to calm down and put his gun away.
    • Also, used by Payne when he tells Jack that he did earn the money he wants for ransom.
      Payne: I got a medal too, Jack. A medal and a pink slip and a 'sorry 'bout your hand'.
  • Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: Despite losing a pension and wanting millions, Payne somehow has the money to pull several elaborate terrorist schemes.
  • 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."
    • Jack and Annie realizing they have to make a hard right at 50+ mph
      Annie: That is a dead end!
      Jack: You can make it.
      Annie: We're gonna tip over!
      Jack: (beat) You're right, we're gonna tip over. EVERYONE ON THIS SIDE OF THE BUS NOW.
    • Annie has a HUGE one when she thinks that she's run over a baby. Turns out the stroller was full of cans.
    • Harry has a slightly more subtle one seconds before he and his SWAT team are blown away by Payne's booby-trapped house.
  • Only in It for the Money: Although Payne would wish he did have a higher purpose behind his bomb threats.
  • ...Or So I Heard: After Payne blows up the elevator minutes before the deadline, Harry guesses he couldn't hold his wad; "It's a common problem among middle-aged men...or so I'm told."
  • Pet the Dog: Payne does reluctantly permit Jack to remove the injured driver from the bus, but it's immediately subverted when he sees Helen trying to sneak off after and blew up the steps she was on with a smaller bomb just to prove a point.
  • Plot Hole: Near the beginning, Payne holds Harry hostage, with a dynamite vest strapped to his (Payne's) chest. Jack shoots Harry at his request, distracting Payne enough that he lets go by mistake. Payne sets off the bomb anyway in order to kill them, and is believed dead. It turns out he survived and was unharmed, even though a bomb went off right next to him. Even if he took the vest off first, there's no way he could came out unscathed, considering how big the explosion was. There is not even a mention of Never Found the Body, as we soon learn that Howard Payne escaped. Yet there is no manhunt underway for the him as this was somehow ruled a suicide as if the body got completely vaporized.
  • Police Are Useless: Averted, 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 jokingly 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)".
  • Profane Last Words: Discussed by Payne when he takes Harry hostage at the beginning. He laments (somewhat) that it's become the standard method of showing a man's Defiant to the End.
    Howard Payne: In two hundred years, we've come from "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country" to "fuck you"?!
  • 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 motorman 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 lost a thumb in the line of duty.
  • Rescue Romance: After the bus hostages are rescued and the bus explodes harmlessly unoccupied, Jack and Annie discuss this trope.
    Annie: You're not going to get mushy on me, are you?
    Jack: Maybe. I might.
    Annie: I hope not, 'cause you know, relationships that start under intense circumstances, they never last.
    Jack: Oh yeah?
    Annie: Yeah, I've done extensive study on this.
    • And then it's invoked at the end after the subway incident ends.
      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.
      Jack: Whatever you say, ma'am.
  • Revealing Skill: Part of what tips off Harry to Payne's identity is that he's too competent at bomb-making. Serial bombers tend to stick to one type of bomb, while Payne's bombs are designed to outwit the very methods used by the bomb squad to disable them.
  • 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: At the end of the film when the subway brakes malfunction.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Helen, a woman who tries to escape in a panic, only to murdered by Payne using a second bomb both to show he means business and also because he is an Ax-Crazy psycho.
  • Sacrificial Lion:
    • Jack's partner, Harry Temple, played by Jeff Daniels.
    • Also the bus driver Bob, a friend of Jack's who is killed by Payne in a separate explosion simply to get Jack's attention.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: Speed 2: Cruise Control takes place in the Caribbean.
  • Shoot the Hostage: The Trope Namer. Jack does exactly that near the beginning of the movie when his partner Harry is held captive by Payne. 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: Jack does this when chasing Payne through the subway station.
  • Shout-Out:
  • 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 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, such as the dye pack bomb that blows in his face and stains his ransom money. Of course, Payne is just a ex-Bomb Squad member whose 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.
  • The Sociopath: Payne kills countless innocent people, blows up buses and elevators, and mercilessly taunts Jack, all while showing zero remorse and only caring about the money he "deserves."
  • Stealth Pun: Payne's undoing is that he views himself as above Jack. So he's defeated by someone who is (literally) beneath him.
  • Steel Eardrums: Payne apparently has no problems hearing even after firing a shotgun in cramped quarters like an elevator.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: When it's an action film that revolves around a Mad Bomber it's inevitable there'll be a lot of explosions.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Despite all of Payne's advantages in rigging the perfect bombs, he is still beatable because there are glaring omissions in his grand scheme where he lacks foresight. Beyond Payne's knowledge of LAPD procedures, Payne's scheme is sketchy beyond the point where the money is in his possession as he's heavily out for revenue against the LAPD. Payne gets outsmarted in areas outside of his expertise ultimately leading to his downfall...
    • When Payne thinks he's going to get away with his train plot and attempts to bribe Jack with some of the ransom, he triggers a dye pack that bursts and stains the money, ruining it. Obviously the LAPD weren't going to hand over all that money without attempting to render it useless, even if Payne did manage to escape them.
  • 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: Courtesy of Stephens, whom Jack instructs to relay what he sees of the bomb to Harry on the phone.
    Jack: (sees the full extent of the bomb) Fuck me!
    Stephens: (Beat) Oh, darn!
  • Take the Wheel: Jack commandeers a Jaguar to reach the bus in time, and has the owner take control of the car so he can jump onto the bus.
  • Taking You with Me: Payne threatens to detonate the suicide vest he's strapped to Annie at several points, even though it would surely catch him in the blast, in order to make Jack back off or not put up as much as a fight as he could. Payne is just crazy enough that Jack takes the threat seriously, so he has to figure out how to take Payne out without him dropping the Dead Man's Switch he's holding.
  • 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.
  • Traintop Battle: The final fight.
  • Try Not to Die: Da Chief frequently tells people "Don't get dead."
  • Unexplained Recovery: When receiving his Medal of Valour, Harry walks with the assistance of a cane owing to the bullet wound he sustained during the elevator job. During the bus job, literally the next day, he's leading a SWAT team to read Payne's house, no cane in sight.
  • 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.
  • Villain Ball: Payne's sole motivation is getting the money he feels he deserves after losing his pension, but he undermines himself with the bus bomb by leaving fairly obvious clues for the cops to work out his identity, meaning that they'd be on his tail forever even if he'd gotten paid. This is somewhat justified in that Payne is insane to begin with, and now he has a personal vendetta against Jack and Harry for foiling his first plot, which he had spent years planning and contained no such hints.
  • Villain of Another Story: Well Anti-Villain, but Ray the small time crook boarded on the bus who briefly held Jack at gunpoint out of fear of getting arrested for his Noodle Incident crime would qualify, this making him a Token Evil Teammate of the bus passenger hostages. Jack managed to overpowered and hand-cuffed him. Ray would later form an Enemy Mine with Jack and the passengers to cooperate to get everyone out alive and to make up for accidentally shooting the bus driver Sam during a scuffle with Jack and Ortiz and wrestle the gun out of Ray's hands.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Payne's breakdown kicks in when the dye bomb Jack placed in the money bag detonates, permanently rendering the cash useless and making Payne's efforts All for Nothing.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Payne says at one point, "Be prepared! This is the Boys Scout marching song."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: No further mention of Sam or his fate are made after he is evacuated from the bus.
  • 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.
  • The Wildcats: Annie wears a jacket with the University of Arizona Wildcats logo on it, which Payne makes reference to in one conversation with Jack over the phone. Payne calling her "wildcat" tips Jack off that Payne has access to a live security camera inside the bus and can see what's going on inside there, which complicates the plan to blind him from their planned evacuation of the bus of all its passengers at the airport.
  • Wire Dilemma: Subverted in that Jack and Harry are able to correctly identify the right wire, but are unable to cut it because Jack realizes Payne designed the bomb with a collapsible circuit specifically to foil their attempts to disarm it.
  • You're Insane!:
    • Harry to Jack during the Trope Namer conversation about Shoot the Hostage: "You're deeply nuts, you know that?"
    • Payne has a comeback for this one: Poor people are insane - he's eccentric.
    • Everyone on the bus when they see that Jack intends to defuse the bomb while the bus is still in motion.


Video Example(s):


Howard Payne

After a dye pack destroys his money, Howard Payne goes from joking and collected to barely coherent.

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