Denzel Washington has a thing for hostage negotiation scenarios: see John Q and Inside Man. Director Tony Scott has a thing for vehicles. He’s done jets (Top Gun), racing cars (Days of Thunder), submarines (Crimson Tide – with Washington). And it’s been a few years since John Travolta did his Face/Off–Broken Arrow–Swordfish manic villain shtick.
Walter Garber (Washington) is an overweight, down-on-his-luck New York subway dispatcher who inadvertently gets caught up in a subway heist when he patches through to a runaway train and reaches hijacker Ryder (Travolta). The deadline quickly set for a $2 million ransom, and bungling city officials unable to stall the crazed Ryder, it’s up to Garber to play hero and save the day. The movie’s title, taken from the Pelham train’s route, stands for a by-the-numbers actioner that’s as predictable a film as it is a pointless remake. Weighed down by a fat suit and some flabby dialogue, Washington should know better (though considering the standard of Travolta’s recent output, this train heist actually isn’t a bad vehicle for him). It’s not all awful – Turturro as a too-slick but likeable pro negotiator and Gandolfini as NY’s Bloomberg-like millionaire mayor both add some sharp Noo Yawk humour to the mix.
If the acting and dialogue is sluggish, then the plot is typical Tony Scott bullet-train. It’s easy to jump aboard and whip along thanks to some frenetic pacing and a few tense stand-offs. The film almost gains points for timeliness by positing a stockbroker as antagonist and potentially inaugurating a new wave of credit crunch-inspired anti-banker thrillers. However, it loses marks for an attempt at arty sophistication through the repetitive use of grainy slo-mo footage – these jumpy linking shots look remarkably like bad buffering on a video download (surely not the effect piracy-paranoid Hollywood wants from a big-screen blockbuster).
As predictable as an on-time metro, The Taking of Pelham 123 runs precisely on schedule, less fun than a rollercoaster but more enjoyable than weekend track maintenance.