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Pop quiz, hotshot. There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? ...What do you do?!
~ Howard Payne to Jack Traven
Howard Payne is the main antagonist of the 1994 hit action thriller Speed. He was a retired bomb squad officer and in the present, he became an extortionist and an extremely calculating, manipulative, temperamental, and psychopathic terrorist.
Payne worked for the Atlanta Police as a sergeant of the bomb squad team. In 1989, whilst diffusing a bomb, his left hand was severely burned and he 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 the information he had on 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 to death by Payne, who 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 sends the elevator plummeting to the basement. They find Payne in a freight elevator, who was overseeing the bombing.
Payne holds a shotgun on Harry, using it to take him 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. Payne escapes and 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 armed. When it drops below that speed, it will explode. Payne will detonate the bus manually if anyone gets off the bus, or if the ransom is marked or not delivered. 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. As the film progresses Mack informs Jack that they have a hard right turn coming up. Jack says to Annie "We gotta a hard right turn coming up", Annie sees the turn up ahead and states that the bus will tip over, Jack soon realizes that Annie is right and tells everyone to move to the right side of the bus. They hit the turn and the whole right side of the bus lifts up off the ground and leaves the bus resting on the two left wheels, it appears that after ten seconds the bus is not going back onto all four wheels, but after a few more seconds the bus's right wheels fall back onto the ground quickly and everyone celebrates.
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 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 one of the tires. Jack goes under the bus on a sled in an attempt to defuse the bomb. This fails 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. They manage to locate and raid Payne's retirement residence, but Payne has already rigged the house with a bomb which explodes, killing Harry and his team. When Payne gloats to Jack about Harry's death, Jack has a brief meltdown.
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 Traven 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 fully fueled cargo plane and is destroyed. 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, Payne disguises himself as a police officer and kidnaps Annie before strapping a bomb with a pressure release detonator to her chest. 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 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. 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, preparing to finish him off. Eventually, Jack lifts Payne into the path of an oncoming signal light, which decapitates his head, sending his headless body off the train and allowing Jack to gain hold of the detonator and disarm Annie's bomb. However, despite Payne's death, 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 breaks 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.
Payne is foiled in his terrorist plot by Jack Traven.
Payne telling Jack that he has planted a bomb on a bus full of passengers.
Payne taunts Jack on the phone after blowing up his friend, Harry Temple and Payne's first evil grin
Payne disguised as a police officer
Payne hijacks a subway train with Annie as his hostage and Payne's second evil grin.