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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

November 7, 2009

5/10 Insufficient Fares

It is what it is. Not as good as the original.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is about one bad mofo that hijacks a New York City subway car and holds its passengers hostage until the city pays him ten million bucks in one hour – at which point he’ll start offing folks for every minute the money’s late – and the train dispatcher that has to deal with this jerk so that he doesn’t go on a killing spree.

Yup, just another day in New York City.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of director Tony Scott and this most recent effort of his isn’t really doing much to sway me in his favor. The guy’s famous because he’s Ridley Scott’s brother and because he’s been churning out one generic Summer blockbuster after another almost every year for well over a decade now even though he hasn’t done anything worth noting since Crimson Tide back in ’95. But I’ve already gone on my Tony Scott rant in my Man on Fire review. The point is he hasn’t really upped his game here and still remains a hack in sheep’s clothing.

For those who haven’t seen it, the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a freakin’ fantastic movie. It’s a bit dated by today’s standards, but the thing it has going for it was its unusually well-written and surprisingly hilarious script. It did well to balance out the tension with a great sense of humor to keep it from getting too serious for its own good. And while the script in 1 2 3 does well to stay true to the plot line of its source material (at least for the most part), it’s desperately missing the kickass script that made the first run-around so memorable, so much so that it ends up being an Achilles’ heel of sorts for the rest of the movie as a whole.

John Travolta plays our train-jacker, Ryder, a role originally played by Robert Shaw (aka: Quint from Jaws). Shaw was awesome in the role because he didn’t show a lot of emotion, played it cool no matter what kind of shit hit the fan, and didn’t mince words or let his guard down during hostage negotiations. And while Travolta is fine here, that subtlety has gone straight out the window. Now Ryder yells a lot, is about as cool as a common street thug with a handlebar mustache, and yaks away to the dispatcher as though he were begging to be caught. Unfortunately, this script change isn’t exactly an improvement, nor was the decision to establish him as the bad guy by having him end every sentence with “MOTHERFUCKER!”

Very well played, indeed.

And Denzel Washington is fine as the train dispatcher, Walter Garber, but, once again, isn’t as good as Walter Matthau was in the role. I was talking to a stranger about Denzel on the train to work recently – one that didn’t get hijacked for a change – and she made a good point that it seems like every role Denzel takes nowadays pretty much boils down to him running around in a suit while yelling on his cell phone. Maybe it’s cause he keeps signing on to do these Tony Scott movies, but I think it’s about time Denzel upped his game and started doing more movies that allowed him to just be a badass while standing still, like Training Day 2 or something, where I guess he would be playing a zombie.

But the upside of this movie is that since the original was good, the remake manages to retain some of that magic and stay entertaining to a certain degree. Can’t say that Tony Scott’s editing choices and overall visual style still don’t confuse the hell out of me as it goes from a normal frame rate to blurry slo-mo every two seconds for no reason at all, but that’s to be expected by now. Ends up being a somewhat intense movie even though it gives away some of the outcomes from the get-go.

Oh, and Luis Guzman has a bit role as Ryder’s accomplice. So does John Turturro as the hostage negotiator. They don’t really do much to stand out or anything, but, hey, I like these guys. They’re funny dudes.

Anyway, didn’t have very high expectations for this movie, can’t say I was really disappointed as a result. Pretty forgettable experience, especially in comparison to One Two Three, but still, 1 2 3 could’ve been worse.

Take that as a compliment, Mr. Scott. You ain’t getting a whole lot of ’em from my end.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2009 8:33 am

    man, i wish strangers on the ride to work talked to me about actors who should be doing better movies than they are…
    this is a film i will probably never see
    is its entire running time anywhere near as good as seven seconds of the thrilling score from the original movie?
    didnt think so

    • November 9, 2009 2:12 pm

      Definitely not, and I too wish I had more run-ins like that on the train. Would be a great counter to the shit I normally have to listen to.

  2. November 11, 2009 1:47 pm

    Thank you for acknowledging how stupid having Travolta end every sentence with the F-bomb. That just pushed me over the edge.

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