LAPD cops Jack Traven and Harry Temple rescue a group of executives trapped in a sabotaged elevator, thus foiling mad bomber Howard Payne's ransom demands. In retaliation, Payne sets a new challenge for Traven: a bomb on a city bus which will arm itself when the bus reaches 50 mph, and which will explode if the bus drops below that speed or if any of the passengers try to escape.
Keanu can't act, countless plot points make no sense at all, the basic idea was blatantly "homaged" from Junya Sato's The Bullet Train (1975) and the whole thing is utterly preposterous — but somehow Speed works.
Could it be the remarkably taut direction (and the exciting use of dizzy hand-held cameras by ex-cinematographer De Bont)? Or that Sandra Bullock and Keanu are so damned easy on the eye? Or indeed that Dennis Hopper is still the finest screen psycho currently at large? All these, and more.
Essentially an updated 70s disaster movie (complete with the scaredy-cat passenger arguing with the uptight one: "I can't die here!" "Hey, shut up, man! I got a wife!"), the idea is simple: when the bus hits 50 m.p.h., the bomb is activated, if it dips below 50, it explodes. Conceived by madman-with-a-grudge Hopper, Keanu's first problem with this situation is that he isn't on the bus, leading to a fabulous sequence involving a requisitioned Jaguar XJS and some amazing stuntwork. From there on in, it's excitement central, as traffic jams, 50-foot gaps in the road and various smaller bombs cause mayhem for Keanu and Sandy, who's gamely taken the wheel.
The result is inevitable, and a tad drawn-out, but as ever it's the way it's done that determines the success or otherwise of films like this, and the relentless pacing andwondrous action sequences, coupled with a witty script ("Poor people are crazy," mugs Hopper at one point, "I'm eccentric") make Speed a decided cut above the rest Theatrically, of course, the movie went ballistic all over the world. One can only see it doing the same on video.
There are very few action movies that cut to the chase quite as quickly as Speed and then have the stamina to keep it up for nearly two hours.