Friday, July 03, 2009

482 - The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) review

“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” is the sort of movie I have trouble recommending, even though I liked it. To be sure, Tony Scott’s remake of the 1974 thriller accomplishes its mission. There are good performances, efficacious yet snazzy direction, and a script that strikes hard only when it needs to. But how can I readily suggest it when better choices exist, such as “Up” and perhaps even “Star Trek?”

The premise: Denzel Washington plays Walter Garber, a New York City subway executive temporarily demoted to dispatcher after allegations of corruption surfaced. He works in a command center with so many colorful displays that I’m certain applications to the NYC transit department will spike. The day takes an eventful turn when a train is commandeered by Ryder, who is played by John Travolta with the dial set to gleeful villainy. If Ryder and his goons don’t receive $10,000,000 in cash within an hour, the hostages will die.

It’s there the plot kicks into high gear, with machine gun fire, ransom demands, and tense conversations about deadlines. Although my synopsis alone should be enough to accurately predict exactly how the story ends, Tony Scott and crew utilize boilerplate thriller elements with such cool efficiency and steady energy that the edge of your seat is an easy place to find yourself. Scott severely tones down the hyper-kinetic, frenzied style of his past several films (such as “Man on Fire” and “Domino”), giving “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” a look that comfortably oscillates between gritty and sleek without overwhelming the senses.

Particularly key here is Washington, who gives a great performance that reminds us what a good actor he is, uninterested in histrionics and seemingly incapable of looking foolish. Considering this, Travolta’s histrionics play off Washington’s reserve quite well, their relationship a push/pull dynamic unfolding primarily through radio until the script needs its climax. There’s a fantastic moment between the two where Ryder extracts a deeply upsetting personal confession from Walter. Here, the performers’ strengths are maximized onscreen while their motivations are revealed, and from then on we believe what they do and say, even if we don’t believe it. John Turtorro has one of those thankless cop roles as a hostage negotiator, while James Gandolfini chimes in as the mayor of New York City, a character that’s half-Bloomberg and half-Giuliani, but who seems like a decent guy nonetheless.

Par for the course, little of what happens passes any sort of logic test. Just how was Ryder supposed to get away? Who knows. Would the cops really give a civilian a gun? Nah. But I suppose questions like those (and several dozen others) are irrelevant for this sort of thriller, one that’s fun and cool but not marvelous or haunting. Like the titular train, you’re onboard for a while, and then it comes to a stop, and then it’s all over. Good enough, if you’ve already seen “Up.”

3 out of 5

1 comment:

Blake Badker said...

i'd rather watch my 7th grade movie, "Speed 2: in Legoland."

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