“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3″ starts with John Travolta standing on a New York street corner with an “I’m going to shoot some people” look on his face, a “Live to Die” tattoo on his neck, strutting to a new-metal remix of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems.” The movie gets better, but not by a whole lot.
“Taking of Pelham 1 2 3″ is a remake of the 1974 Walter Matthau drama about a group of armed men, led by the smooth talking Ryder (Travolta) who holds the passengers of a New York City subway car hostage and demands $10 million for their release. The responsibility of conversing with Ryder falls upon the organizational guru of the New York Transit Authority Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), who attempts to negotiate with Ryder without falling into any traps that he may be holding.
Written by: Brian Helgeland
Starring: John Travolta, Denzel Washington
Running time: 106 mins
Seen at: Boston Common Loews
The plot progresses: Garber’s got a secret to hide, turns out that the money demands are just the tip of the iceberg for the scheme, the incompetent mayor (James Gandolfini) drops the ball more than once with some bloody results. It’s a clear cut crime drama with a straight-as-an-arrow plot and a by-the-numbers stand off between good and evil.
The movie isn’t bad, it’s mostly just insubstantial. The taking of the train happens during the opening credits, Garber is introduced to Ryder within the first fifteen minutes, and there’s never much of a break in between. The whole movie falls on Travolta and Washington’s dialogue to carry it, which most of the time it does. There are times when Travolta can’t quite pull of the tough guy lines (“Tell him to come down here and lick my bunghole”) but when the two hit their stride they can go from funny to intense with seamless effort. The other stars in the movie such as Gandolfini, John Turturro and Luis Guzman play such bit parts that they can’t be called good or bad.
The movie’s real suffering comes with the lack of side character development. Through out the movie we are introduced to some side characters mostly made up of the train hostages. There’s the young man who has his girlfriend on the phone when he is taken hostage, the son and mother duo, the ex-marine, and some others that have their one or two lines of development. The problem with these characters is they make no difference to the story. They seem to be there to fill in an extra 10 minutes and then stay out of the plot for the rest of the time. This is a real problem for a move that is mainly based around a hostage situation, when we don’t know or care all that much about the people who are in danger.
“Pelham 1 2 3” is a bare bones kind of movie. It runs an hour and 46 minutes, and there’s not a lot of breathing room to get bored though there’ aren’t many scenes that will knock you out. I would suggest it if you are a fan of such one on one acting flicks like “Collateral” and “Training Day” because all that is good in the movie comes from Travolta and Washington bouncing off each other. Other than that, you could wait for the DVD and not be all that disappointed you didn’t spend the cash to see it in theaters.