Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 123 (**1/2)

The Taking of Pelham 123. 106 mins. R. Directed by Tony Scott. Written by Brian Helgeland. Starring Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Luiz Guzman, and John Turturro.

You don't have to have seen the 1974 original to get a sense of deja vu with the new remake of The Taking of Pelham 123. There is nothing here you haven't seen before about 100 times already. The original Taking was no classic, but it was a very effective comedic thriller and offered a time capsule view of '70s New York and its citizens - much like Ghostbusters did for the city in the '80s. The new Taking makes the mistake of fashioning the story into yet another Die Hard knock-off, with a coasting Travolta in Broken Arrow bad guy mode again as Ryder, the leader of a group that hijacks the 123 train and holds its riders hostage to the tune of $10 million. Meanwhile, Washington (working with director Tony Scott for the fourth time), and inhabiting the Walter Matthau role - his character is even named Walter in a shout-out to the original, is the subway transit director who communicates with Travolta. Both lead actors are fine, but their characters are non-starters. Sure, each is given a "complicated" backstory in an attempt to add shading to their good/bad characters (Walter was charged with accepting bribes; Ryder has Catholic guilt), but, again, there's nothing new to these characters. The "Taking" of the title happens over the opening credits, and is given very little emphasis - a missed opportunity if you ask me (Travolta just points a gun at the conductor and, before you know it, the train is hijacked). The script by Brian Helgeland is workable and evenly paced, and in the hands of another director, might have been a fertile blueprint for a decent movie, but Tony Scott does everything he can to tank the project. I'm instituting a rule right now that Scott is absolutely forbidden from ever using blurry slow motion in one of his movies again. The man is out of control. Remember Top Gun and Crimson Tide? He used to be able to direct a movie, but since Man on Fire in 2004, he's become captivated by hyperkinetic editing and the blurry slo-mo, and: It. Just. Doesn't. Work. Non-discerning action fans may find modest Saturday night rental fun with the flick, but this is a pretty worthless remake.



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