The Taking of Pelham 123
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta
Direction: Tony Scott
Rating: ** & 1/2
Collaborating for the fourth time with Denzel Washington, British stylist-turned-Hollywood hack Tony Scott (Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Deja Vu) updates the 1974 subway hijack thriller of the same name. You wonder why he bothered.
Take it or leave it, the retread is a rough ride that offers few thrills or redeeming qualities. The potentially powerful drama collapses under Scott’s insistence on bludgeoning the viewer with visual excess.
Displaying an array of flourishes — optical montages, zip-pans, jittery camera movements — the script zeroes is on a gun-toting ex-convict (Travolta, annoyingly over-the-top). Accompanied by three fellow felons, he seizes a New York subway train at rush hour. Taking 18 passengers hostage, the hijackers demand a $10 million ransom to be delivered in one hour.
Taking over the role originated by Walter Matthau, Washington portrays the rail transport executive who first fields the ransom call. An ordinary guy, he reluctantly becomes the hostage negotiator. A cat-and-mouse duel now ensues between the government employee and the gunman.
Smooth plot mechanics has never been Scott’s forte, a shortcoming which is once again evident in this ultra-slick but tepid thriller.
Some scenes, like the one in which the negotiator argues with his wife over the telephone about a domestic chore, verge on the farcical.
Worse, latter half of the film degenerates into a routine chase caper with multiple car pile-ups and random shootouts. The denouement on Manhattan Bridge is underwhelming. Moreover, the interludes revealing the back stories of the rival protagonists merely impede the narrative momentum.
Still, The Taking of Pelham 123 is watchable especially if expectations aren’t too high.