Speed Plot Synopsis
Speed’s premise is ingenuously simple – a bomb is on a bus and it can’t go under 50 mph. If it does, it’ll detonate and kill everyone on board. As our protagonist Jack Traven (played by Keanu Reeves) would say, “What do you do?”
The story itself doesn’t actually begin with the bus but it does begin with a bomb. We pick up in the middle of a tense hostage situation, with LAPD SWAT officers Jack Traven and Harry Temple (played by Jeff Daniels) called to an office where a terrorist is holding an elevator filled with passengers up to ransom. Unfortunately, the lift is also rigged with explosives. The bomber wants $3 million or he’ll detonate the explosives and kill everyone onboard.
When the bomber is declared dead off the back of a massive explosive, Jack moves on with his life… until he’s thrust back into the thick of the action. After getting his morning coffee, he witnesses a mass transit bus explode, killing the driver.
What does the bomber want?
When Jack answers the call from a nearby payphone, he realizes the bomber survived the elevator blast and wants revenge. Before we find out his exact identity, the maniacal bomber explains the rules of this twisted game. He demands a ransom of $3.7 million (his “nest egg”), along with telling Jack the bus number is 2525.
Once this bus reaches 50mph, the bomb is triggered and going below that speed will cause it to blow sky high. Furthermore, if anyone tries to leave the bus, the bomb will also explode.
So Jack races off and manages to get aboard the bus, informing Sam (the driver) and the other passengers that there’s an explosive onboard. Good news, they’re on the freeway. Bad news, once Jack gets onboard, the bomb has already been armed and Annie Porter is forced to take over the wheel following the driver being shot.
Does anyone manage to get off the bus?
Yes, thanks to Jack’s negotiation skills he manages to convince the bomber to let Sam off. Explaining that he’s injured and allowing a little leeway will allow the officers to get him his money, the bomber agrees to let the driver leave. A flatbed truck pulls up alongside the bus and Sam is offloaded.
Unfortunately, a frightened passenger called Helen tries to get off too and the bomber detonates a rigged explosive by the door. It doesn’t destroy the bus, but it does kill her as she’s then subsequently run over by accident.
Is that the end of the freeway drama?
Of course not! After a brief respite, Jack learns, with dismay, that they’re in a world of trouble. Part of the freeway ahead is incomplete with a 50 feet gap at least between segments. Believing that the road may be slightly sloped, Jack decides to take a gamble and encourages Annie to floor the bus. Picking up speed, the bus launches across the gap and makes it to the other side.
How does the bus make it? Well, all bouts of logic would denote that it doesn’t. The bus would never have made that jump in real life but this is Hollywood damnit and Speed is a great film so we’ll allow this as an iconic bit of movie magic!
Who is the bomber?
In the wake of all this drama, Harry manages a breakthrough in the case. Identifying the gold watch attached to the bomb under the bus, Harry deduces that the bomber must be a retired cop.
Digging through the archives, he finds a man named Howard Payne, a former Atlanta Police Department bomb squad officer. Believing that he’s found his man, Harry leads a team into Payne’s property. Unfortunately, the place is booby-trapped and explosives detonate as they enter, killing the whole team.
Interestingly, this death was actually foreshadowed earlier in the movie. While drunk together after the elevator gig, Harry mentions to Jack that guts will only get you so far and you need to think things through before jumping headfirst into danger. Ironically, Harry’s hastiness to catch the bomber ends up his undoing.
How does Jack outsmart the bomber?
With help from law enforcement, Jack manages to get Annie to circle the bus around the LA airport runway, much to the dismay of a shocked passenger who happens to be a tourist and has just come from the airport. That’s the least of their troubles though when Jack inadvertently punctures the fuel tanks with a knife after getting a good look at the bomb under the bus.
Back onboard, Jack realizes he has less than 10 minutes to get everyone off. However, an earlier quip from the bomber about the Arizona Cats (a jacket on the back of Annie’s seat) leads Jack to realize the bomber has a hidden surveillance camera onboard. This is why he’s always been one step ahead of Jack the whole time.
Mac has a local news crew record the transmission and rebroadcast a loop of the passengers onboard the bus to fool Payne. It works (despite there being less than a minute of footage) and everyone is offloaded without any trouble.
Jack and Annie escape the bus through a floor access panel, just before the empty bus collides with a cargo plane and explodes into pieces.
How does Howard Payne get his revenge?
When Payne realizes he’s been deceived, he poses as a police officer and kidnaps Annie as a last-ditch attempt to recover his ransom. Jack tracks Payne into the subway, where he discovers that Annie has been fitted with an explosive vest rigged to a pressure-release detonator.
Payne hijacks a subway train and handcuffs Annie to a pole. He starts the train while Jack pursues them, crouching over the roof toward their location. After Payne kills the train driver, he battles Jack on the roof, during which he ends up decapitated by a railway signal.
How does Speed end?
Jack deactivates the vest from Annie, but he realizes he can’t stop the train or save Annie as she’s handcuffed and the keys are gone.
As a last-ditch attempt to survive, Jack speeds up the train and causes it to derail completely, eventually heading out onto the streets. Having miraculously survived without injury, Jack and Annie finish their adventures by sharing a kiss, as a bunch of people show up and watch on in shock.
Read More: Speed Movie Review