Speed is a 1994 Oscar-winning film directed by Jan de Bont, starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock (her breakout role), Jeff Daniels and Dennis Hopper. Written by Graham Yost, the story is about a Los Angeles police officer (Reeves) who has to stop an insane bomber/extortionist (Hopper) who has rigged a bomb on a public transit bus (a Santa Monica Intercity Bus Lines GM TDH-5303 New Look bus, which looks similar to City of Santa Monica Big Blue Bus). The film is often cited as an excellent example of a high concept film: "a bomb on a bus."
Rated R for violence and language.
Jack Traven (Reeves) is a hot-shot Los Angeles police S.W.A.T. officer who is willing to do unconventional things to resolve hostage situations. Howard Payne (Hopper) tries to extort money by threatening to send an elevator full of people plummeting to the ground, using remote controlled explosives attached to the cable. Jack and his partner Harry (Daniels) foil his plan and nearly catch him. Payne takes Harry hostage, only to have Jack shoot Harry to deprive him of a shield. Payne ducks through a door and an explosion follows almost immediately, leading them to believe he killed himself.
Later, a very-much-alive Payne phones Jack, telling him that a bus has been rigged with explosives. When it exceeds 50 miles per hour (mph), the bomb is armed and set to explode if the speed drops below 50 mph thereafter. Additionally, no one is allowed on or off the bus.
Traven races to intercept the bus, commandeering a sports car to do so. He locates the bus on a freeway and jumps from the car to the fast-moving bus. Unfortunately, he is too late to stop the bomb from arming. A passenger, mistakenly believing that Jack is there to arrest him, produces a handgun and demands the bus be stopped. While Jack tries to explain the situation, another rider tackles the hoodlum, causing the gun to go off and hit the bus driver.
A young woman, Annie (Bullock), takes the wheel. Even though she lost her license for speeding, she must, ironically, speed through the congested city. The police are alerted to the crisis and provide an escort, clearing traffic and eventually directing the bus to an unfinished section of freeway clear of traffic.
The police commandeer a large flatbed truck to try to unload the passengers. Jack warns his superior that the attempt would be seen by the bomber (since television news helicopters are filming overhead) and the passengers killed. However, the young cop convinces Payne to allow the bus driver off the bus. Seeing the injured man taken off safely, a woman attempts to get off too. Payne, who is indeed watching, detonates a small charge below the floor of the bus near the door, killing her.
The situation takes a terrifying aspect when the police learn of a wide gap at an approaching overpass. With no other option, Traven tells Annie to speed up in hopes of jumping the gap. Against all probability (and the laws of physics), the bus successfully makes it while still maintaining the necessary speed.
Following Jack's instructions, Annie drives into Los Angeles International Airport, whose airspace is prohibited to the media helicopters. Jack realizes that Payne must have a camera watching the interior of the bus and manages to have several minutes of the transmission taped and fed back into the camera in an endless loop. This allows the passengers to get off without being detected. The driverless bus then collides with a cargo plane and explodes, leading Payne to think everyone has been killed.
Meanwhile, Harry finds the bomber's identity. It turns out that he is a retired Atlanta police bomb squad officer, living in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Payne is prepared. When they go to arrest him, the house that the police raid blows up, killing Harry.
The police set up a sting operation to try to capture Payne, but he is not taken in. In a last ditch attempt to get his money, Payne masquerades as a policeman, lures Annie onto a Metro Red Line subway train and takes her hostage. Realizing Payne's plan, Jack boards the train. The two fight on top of a subway car and Payne is decapitated by a hanging light. However, the train can't stop since Payne killed the operator and destroyed the controls. In the end, it crashes at what is now the Hollywood/Highland Red Line station. (In 1993, the North Hollywood extension was under construction.) The train derails and is sent up an equipment access ramp outside Grauman's Chinese Theater.
As they emerge unhurt from the wreckage, Jack asks Annie jokingly "I thought relationships based on extreme experiences never worked?" She replies "Well, we'll just have to base it on sex then." and they kiss.
One of the most famous scenes in the film shows the bus jumping across a gap in an elevated freeway-to-freeway ramp while still under construction. Both sides of the gap are at identical heights, making it impossible that the jump would work in real life. According to the "Making of..." feature that accompanied the DVD release, the stunt used a ramp and really did traverse fifty feet in the air. To handle the sudden jolt on landing, the stunt bus had no passengers aboard and the driver was wearing a shock-absorbing harness. The gap in the highway was added through CGI; note the flock of digital seagulls added by the FX tech to enhance the versimilitude of the scene.
The jump, as well as most freeway scenes in the movie, was filmed on California's Interstate 105, which had not been officially opened at the time of filming. Filming of the final scenes occurred at Palmdale Regional Airport, which doubled for Los Angeles International Airport. Those familiar with the local geography could easily identify the stand-in by mountains visible in the background.
There is a sequel called Speed 2: Cruise Control set on a cruise ship. Only Sandra Bullock returned to reprise her role. Willem Dafoe played the villain. It was a critical and commercial flop.
The basic plot premise of extortion using a bomb designed to trigger automatically if a vehicle tries to stop was not original to this movie. Some earlier iterations are:
The difference offered by Speed is really one of amplification: additional plot elements are layered onto the basic premise. With this film, the bus runs the immediate risk of collision in a congested traffic area that would, of course, have stopped and/or slowed it down enough to trigger the bomb. So, before the bomb can be addressed, the bus must be desperately maneuvered through the city, unable to slow down.
The Speed movies have been parodied numerous times. For example, an episode of the UK/Irish situation comedy Father Ted, titled "Speed 3," shows Father Dougal McGuire trapped on a milk float with a bomb set to detonate if the float goes slower than 4 miles per hour (6.4 km/h). A further ironic use of the Speed theme came in the Academy Award-nominated short film, Speed for Thespians, in which a group of actors attempts to play out Chekhov's play "The Bear" on a New York City bus. Another parody can be seen in the Leslie Nielsen movie Spy Hard, featuring the late blind musician Ray Charles as the bus driver.
The plot element featuring a looped video recording was also spoofed in an episode of the US animated comedy program The Simpsons titled "The Springfield Files". In this episode, Homer Simpson remembers getting the idea from the film, which he wrongly thought was called "The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down." (This despite mentioning the word 'speed' several times in his description.) In another episode of The Simpsons, "Bye Bye Nerdie," Marge engages Otto in a bus/car chase, which causes the character Millhouse Van Houten to remark, "its like Speed 2 only with a bus instead of a boat."
It is also parodied in the animé Cyborg Kuro-chan where the bus was driven by Kuro-chan and was hijacked.
During the first Liberty City level in Grand Theft Auto, one of the hidden missions involves a bus that explodes if it does not stay above a specific speed. There is another Speed-style mission in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, where the player has to keep a limousine above a certain speed while its passengers try to defuse a bomb that will detonate if the car slows down.
In the TV Series South Park, episode entitled 4th Grade, Timmy is trapped in his wheelchair that is out of control due to a delay in time-travelling. The South Park Police decide to deploy Kenny McCormick by riding a small cart, towed by a preceding vehicle, that slips between the wheels of the bus. Unfortunately, he misses Timmy by a few inches. The cart, which Kenny was riding gets flipped upside-down because of an open sewer. Kenny ends up being dragged to death along the highway.
In the Family Guy episode "Lethal Weapons" Peter is watching the threquel to Speed entitled "Speed 3: Glacier of Doom". Two unnamed characters (both resembling the people from Speed) are shown standing in front of an iceberg in an arctic setting. The woman says "If this glacier goes any faster than 1 foot a year we're screwed!" She then proceeds to turn around and tell the eskimo, who's sitting by a frozen pond fishing, to "Get out of the Way!" The eskimo turns around, and then turns back to what he was doing.
During a level in the video game Viewtiful Joe, a player must successfully jump a bus over a large gap, using one of the main character's special moves.
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