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Movie Review: The Taking Of Pelham 123

 
Prinz Lee image

Prinz Lee wrote this review 5 years and 2 months ago

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Written June 11, 09

I remember The Manhattan bridge closed for long amounts of hours a couple of years ago when this film was being shot. I immediately looked it up and aside from the contemporary awareness tied with Washington and Travolta, there was more… more on it because “The Taking of Pelham one two three” was already a piece that had made it’s mark back in 1974. The film starred Walter Matthau, Hector Elizondo, Robert Shaw and whole host of others. And the reaction was… “Okay, another remake” and thought I’d give the originalthe a view due to never having seen it and I enjoyed it. For it’s time it was quite entertaining in every aspect and kept a level of anticipation going… so I started to figure how it would compare to 2009’s version.

The basic plot is the same: four armed men take hostages on a New York City subway and while the cops and city government do what they can, it mostly rests on a civil servant to handle the situation.  And this is where there’s room for the update.  We’re in the post-9/11 world and real-time technology allows both new weapons and defenses in crafting the story.  While writer Broam Je;ge;amd and Scott do an admirable job in weaving in modern technology, they drop the simple stuff that made the first film such a tight thriller and give the film over to the obnoxious work of John Travolta as the film’s villain and Scott’s predictable, laughably-bad hyper-editing.

Any actor in a remake of “Pelham” should go in another direction from Robert Shaw’s cool, calculating performance as the lead villain in the original, but Travolta not only chews the scenery like it’s made out of chocolate and meth, he gives same kind of hammy performance we’ve already seen from him in “Broken Arrow”, “Face/Off”, “Swordfish”, and just about every other baddie he plays.  Tonally, it matches Scott’s headache-inducing edits but two people screeching at you aren’t any better than just one person screeching at you.

Of course, Scott does what he always does: hyperactive editing regardless of the appropriate tonality as dictated by the narrative.  It’s maddening and absolutely baffling how anyone could be this one-note of a filmmaker and continue to make such high-profile pictures.  In a way, it’s worse than someone like Uwe Boll because at least Boll isn’t going near projects anyone cares about and while you know a Boll movie will be awful, you’re not exactly sure how it will be awful.

In the middle of it all is the great Denzel Washington.  Washington is an actor far better than Scott deserves but the two clearly enjoy working together as this is their fourth collaboration and Washington manages a performance that is reminiscent of Walter Matthau’s (although they’re two different characters in two different professions; Matthau was a transit cop and Washington is a dispatcher) but ultimately stands on its own.  Washington delivers shading, patience, humor, sadness, and a fully-developed character that is completely out of place in a movie where the director uses laughably bad countdown reminders of the hostage-takers’ deadline (you get the number of minutes remaining over a freeze frame with a loud “DONG” sound effect).

Most frustrating is that this remake could have been surprisingly good.  In addition to the technological upgrades and the post-9/11 setting, Travolta’s character, in terms of dialogue, is an interesting villain as he’s set up as someone who manipulates the stock market and always blames others for his misdeeds.  Under the terrible “thug” threads and painful acting, there’s a fresh and timely character waiting to be unleashed.  And under Scott’s “look-at-me” editing, there’s a story that, with a little bit of polish, could be a tight little thriller.  But Scott couldn’t care less about any of that.  Instead, he provides a tedious and silly version of Spike Lee’s “Inside Man” and neglects the 1974 version of “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3″ because that version had real performances set in a real world in a movie comprised of real editing techniques.

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