Speed or Go Easy Rider

Ash Isaac

Pop Quiz, hotshot. You’re Howard Payne, (Dennis Hopper). You’re a 30-year police veteran specialising in bomb disposal that’s coming up to retirement. You’ve lost a few fingers in a workplace detonation. People call you stumpy, but you don’t care because you’re a hero. Then they have your retirement party. All you get for thirty years of work is a tacky gold watch, a paltry pension and a grudging pat on the back, (welcome to austerity Britain, Dennis!). Do you –


A. Accept the corporate platitudes and phoney goodbyes with gritted teeth and just leave a turd in the stationery cupboard like a normal person would?


B. Play the ultimate disgruntled employee card and instigate a campaign of homicidal urban terrorism against innocent people to boost your pension fund?


Well, if you’re just the wrong side of mentally unstable, it’s evidently B. Hopper, who has previously played such memorable celluloid psychopaths as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet and King Koopa in Super Mario Brothers, (yes, really), is a great fit for the monumentally peeved Howard Payne who really takes the grievance process to new levels.

Payne uses the gold watch to rig a bomb on an LA bus. You know the score, over 50 mph activates the bus, going under said level triggers the device, nuff said! The incendiary also provides a great analogy for Keanu Reeves’ performance in Speed. If his acting ever goes above ‘wooden’, his head explodes. Reeves is Jack Traven, a gung ho, gum-chewing, hostage-shooting cop who is out to thwart Payne.

First mission is to get aboard the bus. Traven hijacks a car and sets off in hot pursuit. If this film were accurate to the LAPD circa early 90s then he would have hijacked the car and also given the black driver a Rodney King-style beating. As it is, Traven lets the driver off relatively easily by jumping from the car onto the moving bus and allowing the car to crash into the barriers. You’re all heart, Jack.

Of course, this daring raid on the bus arouses the suspicions of the passengers, one of whom is an armed thug who assumes Traven is there to arrest him. Criminals, eh? They’re like rats, you’re never more than a few feet away from one. Traven reassures the gangbanger that he’s got bigger fish to fry, but not before a brief melee which results in the bus driver being shot and, more importantly, allows Annie, (Sandra Bullock), to take the wheel and provide a videogenic love interest for Traven.

Jeff Daniels also lends his presence, but in between getting shot by his own partner, (Traven), and getting blown up by Payne, just limps around and screams a lot.

The star of the show isn’t Reeves, Bullock, Daniels or even Hopper. It’s the bus. The imperious, magnificent, incredible flying bus. If Evel Knievel was a bus, he would be this bus. It can soar across 50 feet gaps in the road, survive shredded tyres and punctured fuel lines, shrug off numerous collisions and fenders benders. It can overcome anything, in fact, except for the massive bomb strapped to its chassis. Ah, yes, C4, the natural enemy of the omnibus. The shuddering juggernaut finds its way onto an airport where it continues to do laps in order to meet its 50 mph no-blow limit.

Traven and the rest of his LAPD cronies eventually manage to fool the bomber by feeding him a looped tape of everyone still on the bus while they remove the passengers. Traven and Annie take the much more hazardous route of sledding away to safety to cement their burgeoning romance. The bus, in one final bid for glory manages to find the most expensive object in the airport to blow up, a taxiing 747, presumably empty otherwise the rescue of a bus load of people in exchange for a planeload of people dying would really have been difficult to explain away.

Traven then tracks down Payne and metes out the appropriate punishment, ie, decapitating him on the top of a moving train before presumably heading back to Annie’s adoring arms; proving, once again, that near death experiences are fertile breeding grounds for new relationships. The only shame really is that Keanu, in a rare and prescient career move, decided to break it off at some point and avoided the need to appear in Speed 2. The bus also did not return for Speed 2 or any other movie for that matter, but to this day, has still received more Oscar nominations than Keanu Reeves.

About Ash Isaac

I am a contributor of questionable taste, origin and talent. My one claim to fame is that I was born in the same hospital as Cliff Richard. I am still in possession of my soul unlike Sir Cliff who sold his to Samael the Desolate in return for eternal youth and the friendship of Sue Barker.