A young cop must save the passengers of a bus that has a bomb set to explode if the bus goes below 50 MPH
Pop quiz hotshot! What is one of the most awesomest movies ever to grace multiplexes and home theatres? I’ll give you a hint; the plot revolves around a bus that cannot go under the speed of 50 miles an hour, if it does, it blows up! Jon De Bont’s action masterpiece Speed is on a pedestal of high concept action films with few contenders that can compete with its awesomeness. Filled with explosions, gunfights, a villainous Dennis Hopper, more explosions, a flying bus, and Keanu Reeves in his best role ever, Speed is hard to beat.
Just how awesome is Speed? Let me count the ways… First of all we start off with an intense credit sequence, yes intense credit sequence. The camera cranes down an elevator shaft as thick blue font appears and fades in the bottom right corner. Mark Mancina’s classic scores builds and explodes as we continue delving deeper and deeper into the elevator shaft. Dennis Hopper, in his best role since Frank in Blue Velvet, approaches a security guard and stabs him in the head. Yes, he stabs a screwdriver in the ear on his head, awesome moment number one. An elevator full of people is stopped in the middle of a shaft, they’re being held hostage by crazed villain, Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper). Cut to a car launching off of a hill on the streets of LA. The driver? Loose cannon LAPD officer Jack Traven, who makes Martin Riggs look like a parking vendor. His partner is the cool and calm Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels), who often gets dragged along with Jack.
The two officers head to the elevator shaft where the hostages are trapped. All of the hostages are rescued, and Jack and Harry go searching for Payne. They find him, but Payne takes Harry as a hostage. Picking him off the ground by his nostrils, the three men find themselves in a stand off. Jack shoots Harry in the leg, leaving him out of the equation. Payne runs into a parking lot as it explodes, launching Jack into the air in beautiful slow motion. Payne is dead, hostages are saved, Harry and Jack get medals.
Unfortunately Howard Payne did not die in the parking lot explosion and not only wants his millions of dollars but revenge on Jack as well. This is where the high concept begins; Howard tells Jack there is a bomb on a bus, if the bus goes below a speed of 50 mph the bomb will detonate, destroying the bus and its passengers. Jack finds himself commandeering a car and jumping from that car onto the bus. On the bus we’re introduced to an interesting group of public transit users, the best of which is Annie, played by Sandra Bullock, who nearly steals the show as the women who has to take the reigns of the bus after the driver is accidentally shot. A real relationship develops between Jack and Annie, such a rarity for a movie of this nature, and a great treat.
Jack goes underneath the bus, trying to disarm the bomb. The stunt is amazing. You’re on the edge of your seat as you watch Jack nearly get flatten by the bus tires multiple times. Using camera technology to trick Howard, the passengers are all freed. The film ends with a climatic battle on a subway train that ends with Howard being decapitated.
The film reeks of 100% pure awesomeness. First time director Jon De Bont shot Die Hard and Basic Instinct previously. He brings the same kinetic eye to the action in this film. The man knows how to grab the audience and hold them tight. From the great opening action scene the film bristles with non-stop intensity that never gets boring. The action scenes are even more entertaining because of the characters the audience has grown attached to. Screenwriter Graham Yost, develops the characters while keeping the dialogue fast, fun, and tight.
The stunts are amazing. Whether Jack and Harry are moving around in the elevator shaft, jumping onto the moving bus, trying to disarm the bomb, and of course the bus launching 50 ft across an unfinished freeway, they are all amazing. Action junkies will get their fix. But it’s the suspense, action, wit, and acting that brings the whole film together in one of the best action movies ever created, and definitely one of the most awesomest.
Dennis Hopper is pitch perfect as ex-police officer Harold Payne. He’s a top tier villain sitting in his rotating chair, drinking bottled coke as he watches the chaos he causes on the monitors in front of him. Jeff Daniels is superb as Jack’s partner, making research in the police office as entertaining as it could possibly be. Sandra Bullock is the film’s heart; her Annie is what launched her career as the romantic-comedy-girl-next-door go-to girl. It’s Keanu Reeves’ Jack that guides the film though. Hopper’s Payne tells Jack “Don’t attempt to grow a brain.” Reeves doesn’t have to, he has enough charisma and intensity for a Speed sequel…oops. This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.
The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.