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I'm Wondering

Movie Title: The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Having never seen the original 1974 version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, I am unable to compare it to the 2009 remake, starring John Travolta and Denzel Washington. The original had Walter Matthau as “Lt. Garber” and Robert Shau as “Blue,” the head of the color-code-named villains. Some things have changed in the latest addition, but the basics are still there: a subway train is hijacked and hostages are taken and will be harmed if a large ransom is not paid.

You are supposed to wonder how, even if the ransom is paid, the bad guys could ever expect to make it away. All the exits are blocked off. The effort seems futile. But I’m wondering a few other things, like why in this otherwise exciting thriller we have the usual routine of the cops sucking at their jobs and the terrorist leader “Ryder” (John Travolta) who decides he will only talk with newbie transit operator Walter Garber (Denzel Washington)—who happened to be named “Walter” as a tribute to Walter Matthau, the original Garber.

I’m tired of the sucky cop routine in movies. It’s for the birds. Why, I ask you, must the cops or the FBI as they arrive to take over management of a hostage situation suck at their jobs? I’m also wondering why no one informed director Tony Scott that confessing to a felony or any other crime under duress is not admissible as evidence against a person. And I’m wondering why such a wimpy job was done with the hostages’ “harrowing” ordeal of being kidnapped by these madmen. This isn’t how terrorized kidnap victims act. It’s supposed to be grueling, but little energy was put into making the experience an unforgettably one for the audience.

The kidnapped have their own source of inner-drama too, you might say. One man is getting a teasing from his girlfriend on the train thanks to wireless internet, but when he becomes a hostage, he wouldn’t return an “I love you” to his honey. See the drama? Do you want to see it? Not that kind.

Washington’s sharp “every man” quality makes him real. You probably work with somebody just like him. Travolta visibly fit the look of a good guy gone bad, a guy who made some wicked wrong choices in life, but his charisma is too high for the part. He threw around the word “motherfucker” enough times, but his hurt didn’t show through. He was too relaxed, too at peace with himself, especially toward the film’s end.

Stuff needed to be trimmed out, like melodramatic references that did nothing for the film, the lightly blabbermouth dialogue, a pseudo-quaint reference of bringing home a gallon of milk, an unnecessary police car wreck, and a rat setting off accidental gunfire…none of it helped. Two strangers building a relationship in a crisis worked in Diehard, but not as well here. The action doesn’t cover it up well.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R
Summation: Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom.
Director: Tony Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington “Walter Garber,” John Travolta “Ryder,” Luis Guzm├ín “Phil Ramos,” Victor Gojcaj “Bashkim,” John Turturro “Camonetti,” James Gandolfini “Mayor”
Genre: Crime / Drama / Thriller

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