The Taking of Pelham 123 is based on a 1974 film of the same name. The original wasn?t spectacular but several things made it a memorable success. Firstly, Walter Matthau?s scruffy performance as the transit cop Garber who must negotiate with criminals who have hijacked a subway train. Secondly, the color-centric criminal names?Mr. Brown, Mr. Green?which Quentin Tarantino paid homage to in Reservoir Dogs. And thirdly, the climactic twist, which centered on a sneeze.
The new film doesn?t have any of this. What is does have are car chases, dazzling technology and absolutely dizzying camera moves. It?s snazzier but sadly, not better.
Top Gun director Tony Scott begins with a bang. Even before the titles are over, the train has been taken by Ryder, an ex-Wall Street psychopath played by a snarling, tattooed John Travolta. Ryder?s demands: 10 million dollars in an hour after which he?ll start shooting his hostages, one per minute. Of course this is chump change compared to what Ryder?s going to make on the stock market, once the terrorist attack makes the markets fall. Trying to talk him out of these maniacal plans is Walter Garber, an unassuming subway dispatcher, played by Denzel Washington.
The set-up plays out nicely for the first twenty minutes or so. But Pelham soon settles into a predictable by-the-numbers thriller with set piece action sequences, dozens of freeze frames, a clock counting down to the ominous deadline and interminably boring conversations about mortality, death and original sin between Ryder and Garber.
Also, a situation like this requires viewers to care about the hostages but the subway riders here are as bland as toast. None make any impression?in fact a young man who is streaming the events to his girlfriend on his laptop comes off as incredibly stupid. Armed gunmen loom large but his obviously low-IQ girlfriend insists that he tell her that he loves her and he obliges.
The actors go through the motions without any real passion. Washington brings a graceful restraint to his character but Travolta relies mainly on bulging eyes and tightly pursued lips.
The Taking of Pelham 123 has a sense of d?j? vu hanging over it and not just because it?s a remake. The film never becomes more than a standard issue thriller. See it if you must.