The Taking of Pelham 123

It’s all gone a bit Denzel Washington. Sadly, that’s not a euphemism – though suggestions are welcome as to what that could be a euphemism for – as not only is the lovable rogue starring in The Book of Eli, the subway shennanigans of The Taking of Pelham 123 have recently been released on shiny shiny DVD. Cynical marketing ploy, or perhaps another example of the weird and startling phenomenon known as morphic resonance? We wouldn’t like to guess.

The Taking of Pelham 123, um, III

Tony Scott’s version of Morton Freedgood’s novel is actually the third version of Pelham to hit our screens. The original 1974 was a classic, influencing no less than Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, and a made-for-TV version was also produced in 1998. Disgraced Wall Street shyster Ryder (John Travolta) hijacks a subway train, threatening to kill one of the passengers every minute if he isn’t paid $10 million within the hour. The only person standing in his way is Denzel Washington’s Walter Garber, an (also disgraced) subway worker reluctantly tasked with the negotiations.

It’s not like the premise doesn’t have ample scope for drama – the slow-building, incredibly tense ’74 original is proof of that, no question. But then you add Tony “I Got This Gig ‘Cause My Brother Is Ridley” Scott, king of the extraneous explosion. It’s not like his overblown directing style can’t be applied to something like Pelham, it’s just that the hyperkinetics tend to detract from the story, sacrificing characters and tension in favour of mile-a-minute action and ramped up musical cues. It’s even a bit shallow in terms of action, which is saying something. Washinton’s on fine, earnest form, but by crikey the guy can do so much better than this. Naturally, there’s a race-against-time run through the traffic-crowded Noo Yoik streets, (Seriously, is he contractually obliged to do that in every movie? We reckon he’s contractually obliged to do that in every movie) chasing down Travolta’s stupidly-bearded bad guy. Oh yeah – then there’s Travolta. With classic lines like…

“The mayor can lick my bunghole”

Travolta’s proved once again that truly, really, he doesn’t give a shit any more, reduced to playing bad guys that even braindead, hormonally challenged 14-year olds would find crass and uninteresting. He’s also got the stupidest last line in his career, and not in a “so-bad-it’s-good” way either. Mildly diverting but ultimately empty and disposable, the only excuse for taking The Taking of Pelham 123 is if you’ve exhausted every other thriller in your collection. And by “exhausted”, we mean quite literally wearing the surface of your Point Break DVD away.

Special Features

Commentary tracks
Behind-the-scenes documentary “No Time to Lose: The Making of Pelham 123”
Trailer and previews
A short film on Tony Scott getting a haircut. Nope, not joking.

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