We used to live in a much more rigorously structured television environment. A&E only aired programs about the arts world. CMT played country music videos. AMC broadcast classic films from the United States. But somewhere along the way, the distinctions all disappeared, and TV channel titles all became meaningless labels.
This is a good thing, because now it means the 1994 motion picture Speed can run on basically any channel in your cable lineup, at any time.
Because it is a perfect film, Speed doesn’t suffer greatly as a viewing experience if you happen to parachute in after the designated starting time. It features a number of convenient entry points*, which we will now rank for you in reverse order of delight.
8. After the sports car Keanu commandeers smashes into a bunch of water barrels
You’re still set up with all the key elements: The explosive device on the bus has armed, Keanu has made it onboard, and Dennis Hopper is cackling in his bombin’ den. But you may find yourself distracted imagining the insurance claim hell this innocent civilian is in for. What’s his deductible? How does he prove that his car was commandeered? Are they going to deny his claim on the basis of “Insured could have made it onto an exit ramp if he’d just moved the wheel to the right a little?”
7. When Harry is raiding Dennis Hopper’s bungalow
Poor buddy just knew he wasn’t gonna get cast in the sequel. (Good news, Jeff Daniels: It sucked!)
6. At the medal ceremony after the elevator incident
Jump in here and you’ll have a whole new appreciation for Dennis Hopper’s evil plot. The medal ceremony is immediately followed by Cop Happy Hour, where everyone seems to be drinking pretty liberally. That’s right: Hopper’s designed his plan to unfold while his police adversaries are all brutally hungover. Truly a master stroke.
Just look at Jack the next morning, on his way to that fateful first explosion. Pop quiz, hotshot: Does he look like the kind of guy who normally starts his day off by housing a muffin?
5. Right as Annie hits the baby carriage
The time has come for a robust national discussion regarding the way Keanu says “cans”. This is a good place to start watching the movie with a friend or relative who’s never seen Speed, with the baby carriage fake-out serving as more of a dive into an icy plunge pool than the zero-entry strolls offered by the other points here. Good, but not the best. More on that later.
4. After the LAPD gets everyone off the elevator
You might think the thing that sets the tone of this movie is Keanu shooting his partner, who’s just been taken hostage by the bad guy, in the leg. It is not. The thing that sets the tone of this movie is that KEANU SHRUGS LIKE, “Mondays, am I right?” IMMEDIATELY THEREAFTER.
3. At the stakeout of the trash can
One of my very favorite kinds of movies is the “turns into a completely different kind of movie midway through” movie. Speed doesn’t exactly pull this trick outright, but it does tack on another, shorter action movie to the main plot following the explosion on the tarmac. Start with the cops looking through the blinds at the dead drop trash can to maximize that “What if Law & Order beheaded Dennis Hopper at 9:55?” sensation.
2. After the first bus blows up
OK, picking up from where we left off at no. 6: This is the best possible starting point, if they miss the beginning of the airing, for people who’ve never seen Speed before, and it’s just Wacky Annie Trying To Catch The Bus, Could This Day Get Any Worse. Try this on a friend! Tell them it’s While You Were Sleeping! (If you want to tag-team it, starting the movie at the beginning and ending it here would also make an amazing short film experience.)
1. “This freeway isn’t finished!”
The next time you watch Speed – and though none shall know the hour, we all know that’ll be soon – pause the movie right at the setup to the freeway jump. Better yet, pull out your trusty physical media copy of Speed (can’t be too careful, in this treacherous age of streaming-rights fights) and use that to scroll to just before American cinema’s most famous stunt performed by a city bus. Hit pause. NOW LOOK AT HOW MUCH MOVIE IS LEFT.
The inexperienced Speed freak will channel-surf across the film, notice the bus is already on the 105 freeway heading west, and think, “Eh, almost over, I’ll go walk the dog until Hunt For Red October comes on.” Friend, you’ll be in for one hell of a trek. It’s a testament to the sheer emotional wallop packed by this film that, by the time that bus takes to the smoggy skies, you feel as though you’ve already experienced an entire blockbuster’s worth of action. Well, guess what, lucky pilgrim? There’s an entire blockbuster yet to go.
NB: This exercise is not to suggest that the actual opening of Speed is anything less than peerless in its realm. The atmospheric descent into the elevator shaft, paired with the pinpoint chronological specificity of opening credits font, places the viewing audience in a precisely calibrated headspace to enter the world of the film; that space, of course, is “This police procedural fucks.”