Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) takes on the jobs too perilous for the average cop. He's part of a special task force which specializes in diffusing dangerous situations with cunning and skill. But Jack meets his match in a clever terrorist named Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) who has planted a bomb on a Los Angeles bus. The bomb is set to explode if the bus' speed drops below 50 m.p.h. and it also can be triggered remotely if Howard finds out that the police are attempting to unload the passengers from the bus. Jack is able to board the bus just in time to warn its driver but his regular partner, Harry (Jeff Daniels) is unable to join him in this escapade.
Handling the situation in a wholly professional manner, Jack is able to inform the bus' passengers of their deadly predicament without alarming them and even finds a replacement when the bus driver is accidently shot during a misunderstanding between Jack and a passenger. The replacement, Annie (Sandra Bullock) is a pretty, young woman who is both flustered by her new responsibility and excited by it.
Although most of the film takes place on said bus, the fight between Jack and Howard eventually becomes personal. Howard always seems to be thinking one step ahead, but that doesn't mean that sheer determination and quick thinking can't stop him.
I've heard this film referred to as "Die Hard" on a bus, much like "Under Siege" and "Passenger 57" were called "Die Hard" on a ship and a plane, respectively. This is due to their similar themes of being trapped in a limited environment with a resourceful criminal. But in the case of "Speed", the parallel goes one step further. "Speed" also matches "Die Hard"s level of excitement and unrelenting action. Just when you think the situation is under control, a new twist is there ready to spring into action.
The film does suffer from what I like to call EBS, or the Extraneous Buddy Syndrome. The distinguishing feature of EBS is that the main character of the film, typically someone employed in a high-risk occupation, has a co-worker buddy who is not also a main character. Almost invariably, the buddy is planted in the ground before the film's final reel (see the character of Goose in "Top Gun").
This notwithstanding, "Speed" is a good escapist film which has been perfectly engineered to keep you on the edge of your seat. Although a bit on the brainless side, it's more than a match for the summer crowd that likes its movies fast and furious.