Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 123

There is no mistaking a Tony Scott film. They are all built for speed and "Pelham" literally fits the bill. Not exactly a remake but based on the 1974 film of the same name, "Pelham" is about a hijacked subway train and the interplay between the criminal and the transit worker who answers his call.

The original starred Walter Matthau as the transit worker and Robert Shaw as the ringleader. It was a tense game of cat & mouse between the two that turned on a clever plot point. The new version stars Denzel Washington as the transit worker and John Travolta as the hijacker. The intelligent interplay of the original is lost here, replaced by 21st century secrets and motives.

The two actors are very effective in their roles. Mr. Washington, in particular, is quite believable as the dispatcher with a secret of his own. Mr. Travolta is menacing enough but takes his part over the top, at times chewing up all the scenery. The film also stars James Gandolfini as the "Mike Bloomberg" mayor of New York and John Turturro as a hostage negotiator.

Everything about the new film is ramped up for speed. Much of the early part of the film is dialog between the leads and even that is short snappy patter. The "beat the clock" race through the streets is exciting enough but dumb. As one character suggest in the film, "why not take a helicopter". Why indeed?
And as a native New York, it bothers me no end when chase scenes through the streets of New York make no sense geographically. If you look closely, the runaway train passes Shea Stadium which is nowhere near where the train is supposed to be (and that's just one visual gaffe).

The film is decent summer entertainment but for an intelligent and tense thriller, rent the original.

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