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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

MOVIE REVIEWS

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 (2009)

Starring Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, Luis Guzman, Michael Rispoli, James Gandolfini, Ramon Rodriguez, Victor Gojcaj, John Benjamin Hickey, Alex Kaluzhsky, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Katherine Sigismund, Jake Siciliano, Gary Basaraba, Aunjanue Ellis and Saidah Arrika Ekulona.

Screenplay by Brian Helgeland.

Directed by Tony Scott.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.  106 minutes.  Rated R.

 

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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

It’s always a concern when Hollywood decides to update one of my favorite childhood films – which they do all too often in these imagination-challenged days of filmmaking.  Why create a new movie when you can just remake a known one?  Of course, the films are almost inevitably worse than the original – and often are terrifyingly bad. 

In recent years, many of my old faves have been remade – including The Stepford Wives, Fun With Dick & Jane, The Manchurian Candidate, The Longest Yard, The In-Laws, The Poseidon Adventure and many others.  Now speeding down the track at us like a subway car with no red lights comes the latest old fave. 

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a particularly confusing choice – considering that the film has already been remade, as a weak 1998 television movie-of-the-week starring Edward James Olmos, Lorraine Bracco and Vincent D’Onofrio.  Despite this good cast, the remake was a disaster. 

The new Pelham 1 2 3 is much better than that remake, but it is still not even close to as good as the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three.  (Yes, the old film spelled out the numbers and the new one doesn’t.  I don’t know why that was, but I’ll point it out, anyhow.)  

I never thought I would say this, but Denzel Washington and John Travolta are no Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. 

Not that it is all their fault – their characters have been rewritten to be much less interesting than the original film’s (and the novel which inspired it) characters.  In fact, I suppose to make the story their own, both main character’s personalities have been almost completely overhauled – and not in good ways. 

Denzel Washington’s character has become a boring pencil-pusher, a quiet, shy and competent middle-manager at the transit authority that gets caught up by chance as the negotiator with a group of heavily-armed criminals who have hijacked a New York City subway train.  Matthau was a transit cop, a funny smart ass and an entirely more-than-competent negotiator and detective.

Travolta’s bad guy character, on the other hand, is completely, over-the-top insane.  He yells, cackles, he berates, he goes off on tangents, he has temper tantrums.  It’s hard to really picture him as the mastermind of this intricate plot. 

To give you an idea of the difference between the basic viewpoint of the two films – Shaw’s hijacker was a former mercenary soldier, Travolta’s one is a former Wall Street white-collar criminal.  Who are you gonna be more afraid of? 

Shaw was much scarier just because he was in complete control – this was one seriously bad man and though he never once raised his voice, he made it clear if you crossed him even a tiny bit, you can kiss your ass goodbye.  Of course, it is nearly impossible to outdo Shaw as a bad guy.  He was one of the great forgotten actors of the 60s and 70s (Jaws, The Sting, From Russia With Love), who made one hell of a villain. 

Director Tony Scott tries to make up for having much less interesting main characters by amping up the action and violence – to an almost excessive level.  For example, early on, there is a quick shot of a bunch of police cars pulling up in front of the Staten Island Ferry to respond to the emergency – and one of the cop cars slams into the back of another.  There is no real reason for this – they never show the policemen or the two cars again and it in no way moves the story forward – Scott just wanted a loud crash. 

Apparently, the makers felt the original was too slow-moving and had to give it an adrenaline burst to make it palatable to modern audiences, even though the original film had quite a few exciting scenes. 

Of course, most of the nods to the modern world – for example the fact that one of the hostages is able to stream video by a laptop computer inside the subway car to the outside world – never really pay off.  You keep expecting the hijackers to notice and get violent because of this insurrection.  Instead, when one of the hijackers finally does notice it – the most violent of them, in fact – all he does is close the laptop. 

They have also dropped the color code names which the villains went by – i.e. Mr. Brown, Mr. Gray, Mr. Green.  Instead Travolta’s character takes the much more generic pseudonym Ryder.  Apparently the filmmakers were worried that modern audiences would think that the colored names were stolen from Reservoir Dogs – though, ironically, Quentin Tarantino stole the idea from the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three. 

Plus, they totally ignore the most famous shot in the original film – widely considered one of the best film endings ever. 

I know it’s not totally fair to hold it against the movie that it is not as good as the original film, which is felt by many to be a classic. 

But I can’t help it.  I’d actually have kind of liked The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 had I never seen the original.  It is fast, exciting and well acted.  However, I know how much better this source material can be, so I have to rate The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 as a failure.

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 9, 2009.

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Copyright ©2009   PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 9, 2009.

 

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