Howard Payne is the main antagonist of Speed. He was a retired bomb squad officer and in the present, he became an extortionist and an extremely manipulative, psychopathic terrorist.
He is portrayed by the late Dennis Hopper.
Payne is a disgruntled former bomb squad member who lost his left thumb during his years in the service. He attempts to get $3.7 million by putting a bomb on a bus that would explode if the bus went below 50 mph. He does this so that the police can't get the passengers off of the bus and would have no choice but to give him the money.
Payne is first seen 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 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 2 left wheels, it appears that after 10 seconds the bus is not going back onto all 4 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.
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.
Harry learns that Payne was once an Atlanta Police Department bomb squad sergeant who retired after being severely injured while defusing a bomb. 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.
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 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, realizing that his plan is 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.
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 chops off 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.