Oddly, I have never seen the original 1974 version of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. It sounds like my kind of movie too so I should probably get around to it one of these days. I do feel that not having seen the original gives me an advantage in reviewing this new version. I wasn't burdened with having to compare what many consider to be at least a minor classic with what I was seeing now.
For instance, I doubt the 1974 version was shot in what I like to call Tony-Scott-Acid-Trip Vision. Those of you familiar with the work of director Tony Scott know exactly what I'm talking about. Tony Scott loves to crank his movies up to 11 with loud music and a frenetic visual style that makes you think the projector in your theater must be skipping. Intelligence and cohesive storytelling are often sacrificed at the altar of Scott-style atmosphere and this movie is no exception. On the plus side, Tony Scott is capable of making great action sequences as well as having the ability to get actors to turn in some of the best work of their careers. Maybe that's why he's been able to convince Denzel Washington to work with him for the fourth time.
Washington plays Walter Garber, a highly placed member of the New York City Transit Authority who, for mysterious reasons, has been temporarily demoted to dispatching subway trains. This is bad luck for him as a man who only calls himself Ryder and his team of criminals decide to pick his shift to competently execute a well thought out plan to hijack the Pelham 123 train and hold the passengers for a $10 million ransom. Even more unfortunate for him is that Ryder is played by John Travolta which means that Ryder will behave in an overwrought and flamboyantly dramatic manner. Travolta's penchant for overacting isn't necessarily a bad thing and actually works pretty well here. As I said, Tony Scott really knows how to use an actor's strengths and get them to do their best work.
As I also said, Scott doesn't seem to care if his stories make sense which means you get scenes like Garber being ordered out of the building by the supervisor who dislikes him even though he has been invaluable up until that point in the hostage situation. You also get the Mayor of New York (James Gandolfini) acting calm and jovial despite the fact that he's just been told that New York may be facing yet another act of terrorism.
Anyway, the story is mostly driven by Ryder's fixation on Garber and his desire to only deal with him and not John Turturro's professional hostage negotiator character. In classic movie fashion, the villain comes to say things like, "We're not really so different," to the hero which is never true, of course. It's like a fat guy telling a thin guy that they weigh the same. Still, screenwriters love to give dialogue like that to hammy, over-the-top villains and I imagine I'll be hearing it several more times before the summer is out whether it be Transformers 2, the G.I. Joe movie or a new sequel to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Ryder eventually makes the demand that Garber personally deliver the ransom money. Would it surprise anyone that this is both part of his ingenious escape plan and also leads to his undoing?
Pelham isn't a bad movie. It's watchable, I suppose. There's just nothing really extraordinary about it. I think the movie's flaws can be traced back to Tony Scott's distracting and seizure inducing direction. A thriller like this is never going to be believable but if the movie is put together with clockwork precision then you can completely forget that fact and just enjoy the ride. However, if you end up with someone life Scott who has to constantly announce to the world, "Lookie lookie at these visual effects while loud hip hop comes blaring through your theater's speakers," then you tend to get pulled back into reality and that's the last place you should be.
Oh well, the new Michael Bay movie is coming out in two weeks. I'm sure that particular exercise in Attention Deficit inducement will make this look good by comparison.