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Speed (1994), scripted by Graham Yost,
was his first film, a fast-paced action film full of
suspense, not to mention stunts and special effects.
A mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) blows up the cables of an elevator, that plunges
down the chute with its load of passengers. The emergency brakes kick in and
stop the fall, but the elevator is now dwindling over the abyss and
the bomber has tied bombs to the brakes themselves and is
ready to blow them up if the city does not pay a ransom.
A SWAT team is called in. The cynical Jack (Keanu Reeves) and a more humane
partner climb down to check the situation.
Jack has the idea to chain the elevator to a crane that is standing outside
the building. When the bombs explode, the hook holds the elevator long
enough to allow the SWAT team to safely evacuate the passengers.
Congratulations to Jack and his partner Harry, but now they have to fight
the villain, Howard. Howard takes Harry hostage and threatens to blow him up
too, but Jack's ruthless manners prevail. Howard manages to escape grinning.
This episode is a short prelude to the real action.
The psychotic killer harbors revenge. A bus blows up in front of Jack, a
public phone rings, Jack picks it up: it's Howard telling him that he is
mad at him for foiling his plot and wants a huge ransom for a bus that he has
just rigged elsewhere in the city.
Harry set the device to arm itself as soon as the bus speed exceeds 50 mph
(80 km/h) and then to explode when the speed decreases below that level.
Jack doesn't even let him finish, jumps on his car, races after the
bus and even reaches it in a traffic jam, but the bus driver, scared, does
not let him in. Jack stops and takes a sport car and resumes the chase.
The bus has passed the speed and Jack can only escort it, but not stop it.
Jack alerts Harry from the car's cell phone and then boards the bus
(jumping from the car at 80 km/h, of course). On board he is welcome by
hostile passengers and one criminal who, thinking that he is the object of
the chase, pulls a gun. In the fight to disarm this fellow the driver gets
wounded and cannot drive anymore.
A passenger, Annie (Sandra Bullock), whose driver license has been revoked for
speeding, takes the wheel and obeys the order to keep the speed above the
In a few minutes, the whole city knows about the runaway bus and
Howard is watching the action on television.
While Jack is frantically communicating with Harry, Annie has to drive
the bus on the emergency lane and then off the freeway,
crashing countless cars, in order to avoid traffic jams and keep the bus moving.
From Jack's description of the bomb, Harry figures out that Howard is
a living encyclopedia of bomb-making, and draws the conclusion that he
must be an ex-cop.
The bus proceeds its wild race in the city passing lines of cars at ten
times their speed, heading against traffic, sideswiping cars, causing
accidents, missing pedestrians by centimeters.
But now Jack is guided by a helicopter and escorted by police cars.
They direct the bus an empty freeway that is still under construction.
There is no traffic and Annie can drive safely at high speed, but
an overpass has not been completed.
The wounded driver is hauled out of the bus, a passenger dies in a gruesome
manner, the bus flies over the gap and enters the airport runawys, Jack tries
to dismantle the bomb and gets stuck under the bus.
In the meantime, Harry has identified the psychotic killer, Howard,
a former cop with a grudge, and decides to go after the source of the trouble.
Harry leads a team into Howard's home, but the home is rigged too and Harry
blows up. Howard in person gives Jack the news over the cellular phone.
For the first time, Jack loses his composure.
But then he realizes how Howard has been watching over them: there's a camera
on the bus. Jack has the police create a fake video so Howard will not see
what is really going on and then quickly ushers everybody out of the bus.
The bus goes on to crash against an airplane and blow up in a giant ball of
The film ends with a short epilogue that is symmetrical to the beginning
Now they have to capture the psycho. As the video is still rolling and Howard
is convinced that the bus is still moving, the police delivers the money
to the garbage can as Howard requested. Howard realizes that
he has been fooled, but still manages to get the money
(he drills a hole under the garbage can while the police officers are positioned
on the roofs) and kidnaps Annie. Jack runs after them and finds them: Howard
is waiting for him, to humiliate him and has rigged Annie. Taking Annie as
hostage, Howard boards a subway train. Jack grabs a door of the train
and climbs on the roof. Jack and Howard fight on the roof,
with Annie held handcuffed inside.
Howard loses his head (literally) and Jack is the winner, but the equipment has
been damaged and train won't stop. Worse: Annie is still handcuffed to the
car and the key is lost. Annie is doomed and, of course, Jack can't leave her.
The train crashes in the most spectacular manner, flying over the walls
and breaking into a shopping mall.
Annie and Jack survived and are hugging on the floor of the car, surrounded by
curious tourists who take pictures of them.
The plot is a little implausible (imagine how many people must have died
in traffic accidents and assorted catastrophes to save the lives of those
few passengers on the bus), but, in terms of sheer action, very few films
can compete with this one.