"Speed" is like an ingenious windup machine. It's a smart, inventive thriller that starts with hostages trapped on an elevator and continues with two chases - one on a bus, one on a subway - so that it's wall-to-wall with action, stunts, special effects and excitement. We've seen this done before, but seldom so well, or at such a high pitch of energy.
The movie stars Keanu Reeves as a member of the Los Angeles bomb squad. He and his veteran partner (Jeff Daniels) are called in after a mad bomber severs the cables holding an elevator in a high rise building. Now the terrified passengers are trapped between floors, and the bomber wants $3 million or he'll push a button and blow off the car's emergency brakes. This situation in itself might make the heart of a thriller, but it's only a curtain-raiser for "Speed," which turns into a battle of the wills between Reeves and the madman.
The bomber is played by Dennis Hopper, the most dependable and certainly the creepiest villain in the movies right now. He's a former cop with a grudge, an intelligent man with a big bag of tricks who seems able to anticipate every one of Reeves' moves. He wants not only the ransom money but also the satisfaction of humiliating the LAPD, and when he's outsmarted on the elevator caper, his next trick is truly diabolical.
He rigs an ordinary Los Angeles rapid transit bus so that if it exceeds 50 mph, a bomb will be armed - and then, if its speed falls below 50 mph, the bomb will explode. This is an inspiration that will raise many questions for anyone who has ever been in L.A. traffic, but never mind: It provides the basis for an extended, suspenseful chase sequence that comes up with one ingenious crisis after another.