Run Time: 1 hr 46 mins
Plot Synopsis: In The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Denzel Washington stars as New York City subway dispatcher Walter Garber, whose ordinary day is thrown into chaos by an audacious crime: the hijacking of a subway train. John Travolta stars as Ryder, the criminal mastermind who, as leader of a highly-armed gang of four, threatens to execute the train’s passengers unless a large ransom is paid within one hour. As the tension mounts beneath his feet, Garber employs his vast knowledge of the subway system in a battle to outwit Ryder and save the hostages. But there’s one riddle Garber can’t solve: even if the thieves get the money, how can they possibly escape?
The taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a remake of a film made in 1970 of a very similar name, The taking of Pelham One Two Three. The original film starred Walter Matthau, and it was generally considered a good film. Not a great one by any stretch of the imagination, but it was entertaining. I should know, I have it in my personal collection. Since it is a remake, I went into the theater with few positive expectations. I enjoy John Travolta, especially as a bad guy, so I was excited to see him play a villain. I also think Denzel Washington is one of the best actors in Hollywood today. Those two actors are actually the only reason I went to see this film. Going in expecting the worst but hoping for the best, for whatever reasons, I made up my mind I was going to pay to see a remake. I can honestly say I was not disappointed.
I wasn’t disappointed at all, but not in the way you are thinking. I was not disappointed that all of my expectations were met and I would get to write my first all negative review in a long, long time. I’m sure you can infer from what I just said that there is absolutely nothing about this film that makes it worthy of your money. I might recommend watching it on a lazy Sunday afternoon on tv, maybe. I obviously wasn’t the only one who felt that way. The taking of Pelham 1 2 3 opened to shockingly poor numbers – failing to surpass Up, a film that has been in theaters for 3 weeks now, and The Hangover, which is still in first place after 2 weeks in theaters. The film made $25,000,000, compared to the 2nd place film Up and it’s weekend gross of $30,515,000, and the 1st place flick The Hangover and it’s weekend gross of $33,415,000. Definitely some poor numbers. There is always the chance that the film comes back and makes a decent 2nd week gross, but as bad as this remake was, I’d doubt it. If all you wanted was to hear me say that this was either good or bad, you can stop reading the review now, it’s totally cool. But I’m not the type of guy who will just speak negatively about a film without explaining why. So, the reason why The taking of Pelham 1 2 3 was so disappointing is what follows.
For all it’s attached star power, and there is a lot of it in just Washington and Travolta alone, this film still falls flat on it’s face. I’m going to try to not compare this film to the original, but first I have to make one comparison as a means of referrence for you all. The original film scored in it’s “cat and mouse game” type story. It was thrilling and intelligent. Where this remake fails is that it completely screws up the very simple premise of the original. This film can’t help but trip over it’s own feet, trying so hard to be exciting and relevant but instead making it over the top (in a bad way) and predictable. The story is twisted, and changes from the very simple “hiest movie” premise of the original and turns it into some sort of revenge tale. I’m all for updating the plot and I’m not upset that this movie is different from the original. I couldn’t really care less, as long as this new film was good. This story was not compelling or interesting, and there were few thrills. The action appeared to be aiming to get that “wow factor” but instead seemed gratuitous. There was one scene in particular, without spoiling the film for those of you who want to see it, that featured a car collision where one car just seems to go flying up into the air and flipping end over end. There were just too many instances where the focus was on shock and awe and instead of on advancing the story and heightening the drama.
Some of the films biggest flaws, in my opinion, can be attributed to the film’s director, Tony Scott. For those of you who don’t know, Scott is probably best known for directing Crimson Tide. He did a damn good job on that film, so his attachment carries some expectations. Fair or not, I see his name and I think there is a chance that I’ll really love it. But he disappointed me big time with this. As I mentioned the story above, I just find it hard that a guy as talented as Scott could manage to screw up a very simple story so badly. Perhaps he had to succumb to studio pressure? Why would he go for over the top action instead of the gritty realism of the original? Even though it was a remake, and as such it is cursed from the get go, the stars were aligned for this film to be okay. But he pointed this runaway train in the wrong direction. It’s just common sense: if you have talented actors like Denzel Washington and John Travolta, why waste their skills on pointless action? The lack of character development attibutes to the lack of drama, and I blame Scott for both of those flaws.
I mentioned character development, and that extends beyond the film’s main characters. The secondary characters, mainly the members of Travolta’s team of hijackers, suffered from a serious disconnect from the audience. They were under-utilized and bland. Where’s the personality? Where’s the animation? It almost felt like I was watching androids assist in the crime instead of a team of human cohorts. Luis Guzman is a solid actor, and he has the ability to bring a very large personality to his roles. He simply wasn’t properly utilized. I will say, however, that smaller parts for James Gandolfini and John Turturro were done a little better than the rest of the bunch. They actually had some dialogue! A shocking concept I’m sure. Let the secondary characters provide a little levity! It shouldn’t be that hard. Gandolfini in particular was one of the better characters in the film. His performance as the Mayor was refreshing. He blended the serious politician and light hearted, likeable nice guy. His character also brought a few laughs to the audience. I just wish the rest of the characters displayed as much personality as Gandolfini’s character did. Perhaps the film would not have been so bad…
No matter how hard Denzel Washington and John Travolta surely tried, even if they pulled off the performances of a lifetime, it could not have saved this movie from itself. It tried so hard to stand out and be exciting, and instead of succeeding in that aspect it merely distracted from the real heart of the story and prevented the film from being anything other than a bland retread of an solid film from the 70’s. I find it hard to give any reason for anyone to go check this out on the big screen. It’s really disappointing, because I had earlier pegged this film as one to watch out for this summer. Man, did I ever get that call wrong.