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Pop quiz, hotshot. There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes fifty miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below fifty, it blows up. What do you do? WHAT D'YOU DO?!
~ Howard Payne to Jack Traven,

Howard Payne is the main antagonist of the 1994 sleeper hit action thriller Speed.

He was a retired Atlanta police officer from their bomb squad unit. After he left the Atlanta PD Bomb Squad due to losing a finger, he became an extortionist and a quite calculating, temperamental and sadistic terrorist. He is one of Jack Traven's enemies.

He was portrayed by the late Dennis Hopper, who also played Peter Vollmer in The Twilight Zone, Tom Ripley in The American Friend, Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, President Koopa in Super Mario Bros., the Deacon in Waterworld and Victor Drazen in 24.


Past career

Payne first worked for the Atlanta Police as a sergeant of the bomb squad team. In 1989, whilst defusing a bomb, his left hand was severely burned, and he also lost a thumb. He was forced into retirement afterwards as he proved too ineffective to do his job anymore. Payne's sanity snapped, and he turned to crime using his knowledge of bombs to become rich, regardless of how many lives he would take.

First Kidnapping and Attempt to Bomb Elevator

Five years later, Payne was working on a Los Angeles skyscraper express elevator during the night. A security guard spots him and asks to see his work permit, only to be stabbed in the ear with a screwdriver and killed by Payne, who assured that it was nothing personal against him. It turns out that Payne is revealed to be planting bombs on the elevator's cables.

After Payne bombs the cables, the emergency brakes are the only things holding the elevator car up. LAPD officers Jack Traven and Harry Temple manage to rescue the hostages before Payne detonates the emergency brakes sending the elevator plummeting to the basement. They find Payne in a freight elevator, who was overseeing the bombing.

Payne reveals he is wearing a bomb with a pressure release detonator, using it to take Harry hostage. Payne tricks the police into thinking that the express elevator is getting off on a different floor and takes Harry with him. Jack manages to shoot Harry in the leg, causing a confused Payne to release him. Jack tries to pursue Payne, who sets off a small explosion in the parking garage that appears to kill him. Jack and Harry are commended for their bravery in an official ceremony. Harry is promoted to Detective and given a desk job.

The Bus Incident

Two years I spent setting up that elevator job. Two years I invested myself in it. You couldn't understand the kind of commitment I have. You ruined a man's life's work and you think you can walk away. You got blinders on to the world!
~ Payne revealing his resentment and revenge towards Jack.

The next day, Jack observes as a Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines bus explodes near him, killing the driver, who is a friend of Jack's. Payne calls Jack on a nearby pay phone, revealing that he faked his death and has rigged another bus to explode. Once the bus reaches 50 miles per hour, the bomb will be automatically armed. Should it drop below that speed, it will explode. Payne also threatens to detonate the bus manually if anyone attempts to get off the bus, or if the ransom is marked or not delivered by his deadline. The bus Payne rigs is an express bus, making an effort to stop the bus before the bomb arms futile. Jack locates the bus and jumps aboard, but the bomb has already been armed.

When Jack identifies himself as a police officer, one man draws a gun, believing Jack has come to arrest him, and accidentally shoots the driver, Sam. Another passenger, Annie Porter, takes the wheel and is forced to desperately maneuver through the city's congested streets at all costs.

Meanwhile, the police department receives their own extortion threat from Payne and responds with an escort for the bus while Jack's superior, Lieutenant McMahon, directs it from a following helicopter to the unused 105 freeway where a commandeered flatbed truck joins it to disembark the passengers. Jack, aware that the trailing news helicopters covering this emergency will inadvertently alert Payne, negotiates for the wounded bus driver to be evacuated from the moving bus. Payne agrees, but when he witnesses a terrified passenger named Helen recklessly trying to get off as well, he detonates a secondary explosive, which is a small bomb under the steps. This causes Helen to fall under the bus, where she is crushed to death beneath the wheels.

As they continue down the 105, they find out that the freeway is unfinished, as there is a 50 ft gap in the upcoming freeway flyover. Jack orders Annie to floor it, and they reach 70 miles per hour. The bus manages to jump the gap with room to spare.

Aftermath of The Bus Incident

It was the watch that led him to me, wasn't it? Huh? It seemed a little hammy to me to build a bomb out of my precious retirement gift, but, you know, I figured a sign that said "Howard Payne" would be pushing it.
~ Payne gloating over Harry's death to Jack.

They drive to Los Angeles International Airport where they can safely maintain their speed by driving in circles on the emergency runway and, being a restricted airspace, the police can operate without Payne seeing them in the media from the news helicopters. On the way in they accidentally hit tire spikes, damaging the rear tires. Jack goes under the bus on a sled in an attempt to defuse the bomb, but is unable to disarm it when he discovers it has been rigged with a collapsible circuit. He orders to be pulled to out, but when the sled loses control, he tries to grab hold of the bus and accidentally ruptures the fuel tank with a screwdriver.

Later, Harry learns about Payne's past as a bomb squad sergeant. He assembles a team which attempts to storm Payne's apparent residence, but Payne has already rigged the retirement house with a bomb which explodes, killing Harry and his team. When Payne gloats to Jack about the deaths of Harry and his team, Jack has a brief meltdown.

Kidnapping Annie

You still don't get it, do you, Jack? The beauty of it. A bomb is made to explode. That's its meaning, its purpose. Your life is empty because you spend it trying to stop the bomb from becoming. And for who? For what? You know what a bomb is, Jack, that doesn't explode? It is a cheap gold watch, buddy! (Jack: You're crazy! You're f***in' crazy!) No! Poor people are crazy, Jack. I'm eccentric.
~ Payne confronting Jack while holding Annie hostage.

Once he calms down, Jack discovers that Payne is monitoring the bus with a hidden camera. Jack's colleagues loop the footage being transmitted to Payne so that the passengers can be evacuated safely to another bus. Jack and Annie are the last to evacuate, after which the bus crashes into a taxiing cargo plane and explodes. The police plan to catch Payne as he picks up the ransom money, but Payne discovers the looped video feed and in a rage realized that his plan was foiled. However, with another plan up his sleeve, he disguises himself as a police officer and kidnaps Annie before strapping a bomb with a pressure release detonator to her chest, just like he did to Harry in the skyscraper. Payne then escapes into the subway station, where he collects the ransom money. Jack catches Payne and demands for Annie's release, saying that Payne can get away with the money. However, Payne refuses to release Annie and threatens to set off the detonator if Jack steps closer to him. Payne proceeds to hijack a subway train, handcuffing Annie to one of the poles inside. Jack narrowly manages to get inside the train just as it starts moving.

Final Fight on The Subway Rooftop and Demise

What do you do, Jack? Huh, what do you do? You're so smart, right, Jack? You piece of S***! I'm the guy with a plan, 'cause I'm smarter than you! I'M SMARTER THAN YOU!! (Jack: Oh, yeah? Well, I'm taller!!)
~ Howard Payne's last words before his death.

Payne catches the conductor of the subway train answering the radio and kills him. He discovers that Jack is on the rooftop and that his money has been tainted when a dye pack bursts in his face, rendering the money useless. Losing whatever sanity he has left, a furious Payne starts shooting on the train's rooftop until he runs out of bullets. Taking his detonator, Payne climbs onto the rooftop and fights Jack. Eventually, Jack pushes Payne into the path of an oncoming signal light, which decapitates him, sending his headless body off the train. Jack barely manages to gain hold of the detonator and disarms Annie's bomb. However, the train cannot be stopped, because its control panel is heavily damaged by Payne's bullets. Jack also cannot free Annie from the handcuffs since he doesn't have the keys to unlock them. Jack observes the map and discovers that the track dead ends into the construction site under Hollywood/Highland. Jack accelerates the train, intentionally derailing it. The derailed train crashes through a wall where it comes to rest on Hollywood Boulevard. When Annie realizes that Jack stayed with her rather than saving himself, she passionately kisses him as pedestrians surround the train, watching and taking photos.


Poor people are crazy, Jack! I'm eccentric.
~ Payne showing his greedy side.

Dennis Hopper's portrayal as the cold and complex main villain earned him praise and was acclaimed by critics, and it has so far been considered one of the best in his acting career. As shown in the film, Payne is shown to be quite cynical, sadistic, and treacherous. He is a maniacal and crazed criminal working as an evasive terrorist, bomber, extortionist and blackmailer.

It is implied that Payne seems to enjoy killing people and derives pleasure and joy from inflicting pain, suffering, and the fear of death into other characters, as he is shown to snicker evilly and sadistically when he does so. He is a very brutal, violent, dangerous, and deadly monster, always willing to kill anyone without any hesitation and reluctance, even drastically going as far as blowing up and killing the whole city of Los Angeles if he has to in order to get what he wants, even innocent men, women, and even children. And while there were only twelve people killed by Payne, he still threatened the entire city putting lives at risk.

When he did kill those twelve people, Payne did so without showing or feeling any mercy, pity, or guilt. Payne is also a highly intelligent master of disguise and destruction, and he is able to escape from a huge police force. He is also able to think up of a truly destructive plan, is able to single-handedly rig his booby trapped places of interest as well as play the cat and mouse chase game (a battle of the wits and wills) with Los Angeles Police Department S.W.A.T. team officer Jack Traven, which he almost won.


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See Also
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