Starring: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro
Directed by: Tony Scott (“Déjà Vu”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Man on Fire”)
Two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott reunite for a fourth time in the remake of the 1974 film “The Taking of Pelham 123,” an underground action flick that proves to be more than screenwriter Brian Helgeland can manage when it comes to adding a little common sense to the original script.
In “Pelham,” the workday starts of like any other for Walter Garber (Washington) at the New York City Rail Control Center. Things begin to get nerve-wracking, however, when he notices some odd occurrences happening on the subway system monitors. One of the rails has come to a halt in the middle of its route. The premature stop is caused by a group of hijackers led by a man who calls himself Ryder (John Travolta).
“What is the going rate for a New York City hostage,” he tells Walter after taking control of the rail and before asking for $10 million in ransom. Setting a one-hour deadline to get him the money before he starts plugging passengers, Walter relinquishes his hot seat to hostage negotiator Det. Carmonetti (John Turturro) who immediately informs the mayor (James Gandolfini) about what is happening under his city.
Ryder, however, doesn’t want to consult with anyone but Walter. During their short time together on the phone, he has come to feel comfortable enough to execute his master plan – which in itself doesn’t even have a rational exit strategy – through the one person with the least power in the entire room.
Nevertheless, with a gun in his hand, Ryder is calling the shots and Walter is whisked back into the fray in an unrealistic plot to transport the money inside the dark tunnel before time runs out. During the waiting game, Carmonetti begins to wonder if Walter is part of the heist himself. Why else would Ryder be so adamant about pulling the heist off on Walter’s watch? When Walter’s co-workers supply information about a recent demotion and suspension for something he irrefutably denies, thing begin to get testy at the control center. All the while, Ryder and Walter continue to play a cliché game of mental chess (Ryder says “checkmate” a few time to push the issue) as the passenger cower under their seats.
And since Washington (who gives a very good performance) and Travolta never come face to face with each other, director Scott is forced into a predicament. Where will he find the “action” in his action movie? With the clock literally ticking, Scott forces the action during the scenes when the money is being delivered to Ryder. He turns the transfer into thoughtless mayhem by tossing in car crashes and other odd speed bumps to boost effect.
In the end, “The Taking of Pelham 123” is irrelevant. It’s the type of movie that keeps you awake more than it keeps you truly entertained.