- Rated R
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All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s no big secret that Hollywood loves remakes, but as is usually the case, the movies that are being remade are either those that don’t need to be or those that don’t deserve to be. Updating a film like “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” results in a different kind of reaction – one of complete and utter indifference. Joseph Sargent's 1974 cop thriller may have its share of fans, but the movie is far from off limits where remakes are concerned. Whether or not Tony Scott’s version is better or worse than the original is a moot point, though, because while stars Denzel Washington and John Travolta make the material entertaining, it’s not nearly as memorable as it should be.
Washington stars as Walter Garber, a transit control supervisor who’s been demoted to dispatching duty while under investigation for allegedly accepting a bribe on a business trip. When a group of criminals led by a man named Ryder (John Travolta) hijacks a New York City subway train and holds its passengers hostage, Garber is the unlucky dispatcher who receives the call. Forced to serve as the intermediary between Ryder and the city’s mayor (James Gandolfini), Garber is given one hour to deliver $10 million, with one hostage to be executed for every minute over the deadline. There’s more to Ryder’s plan than he’s letting on, but with the minutes furiously ticking away, Garber must figure out a way to put an end to the heist, even if he's the one that has to do it.
The original “Taking of Pelham One Two Three” was hardly the first of its kind, but it must have seemed at least a little more innovative 30 years ago. Simply put, the updated version (which has chosen to go by the seemingly hipper numerical spelling of the title) feels like every other cop thriller of the past two decades. Unlike a movie like “Inside Man,” which featured a clever script first and a great cast second, “The Taking of Pelham 123” appears to have been created solely as a platform for its two stars. It goes without saying that both Washington and Travolta are up to the task, but while their (mostly) off-screen interactions are amusing, the story itself is predictable and stale. There’s just very little tension throughout, which doesn’t exactly make for a great thriller.
As the villain of the movie, John Travolta obviously has the flashier role (and he plays up every second of it), but it's Denzel Washington’s performance as the mild-mannered subway dispatcher that proves more effective. By making Walter Garber even less of a hero (at least when compared to Walter Matthau’s detective from the original), it only makes his actions seem more heroic. It was a smart choice on the part of Scott, and it’s the kind of role that Washington, flush with charisma, can knock out in his sleep.
Furthermore, though Brian Helgeland’s script includes an ending that’s vastly different from the 1974 version, it’s a change that, while more predictable and definite, won’t have too many people accusing him of blasphemy. It might not improve on the original, but it doesn’t ruin it either, and the same can be said of the movie as a whole. “The Taking of Pelham 123” is a pretty by-the-numbers crime thriller, and though it may not stick in your mind when the summer is over, it’s still an enjoyable ride while it lasts.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Sony’s release of “The Taking of Pelham 123” teaches us that no matter how many extra features you cram onto a DVD, it doesn’t make them special. It may look like there’s quite a bit of extras on the single-disc effort, but apart from a pair of audio commentaries by director Tony Scott and writer Brian Helgeland and producer Todd Black, everything else is garbage. The 30-minute making-of featurette (“No Time to Lost”) doesn’t really disclose anything that isn’t already mentioned on one of the commentaries, while the featurettes on the NYC subway (“The Third Rail”) and stylist Danny Moumdjian (“From the Top Down”) are even more pointless than they sound.