John Travolta shoots blanks as Pelham’s unterrifying baddie.
THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (Tony Scott). 106 minutes. Opens Friday (June 12). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NN
Tony Scott's The Taking Of Pelham 123 will be best enjoyed by those who've never seen Joseph Sargent's 1974 original.
They won't notice all the old stuff that's missing and all the new stuff that's just unnecessary. If the first movie was a reliable old local, faithfully making all the stops, the remake is an express train racing to its destination and missing everything in between.
More people get shot. There's an extra car chase. Everything's photographed through filters and step-framing and motion blur in the same amped-up frenzy Scott's been mistaking for style since Man On Fire.
The original Pelham may not have been a masterpiece, but it told its smart, merciless story with a great sense of time and place. I watched it again just last week and marvelled at the way everyone - good guys, bad guys, passengers - takes the hijacking in stride, as though it's just another goddamn thing they have to deal with in their already busy day.
In post-9/11 New York, everything's loaded with extra meaning, so the authorities - including James Gandolfini, who gives the movie's one great performance as the grumpy mayor - have to keep reassuring people that the hijacking isn't a terrorist act. (Except that it is, of course. Four armed men take a subway car prisoner, demand $10 million in an hour or they'll start killing hostages. How is that not terrorism?)
Further complicating matters, our beleaguered transit official hero (Denzel Washington in a part originally played by Walter Matthau) has a dark secret in his past that must be explored in excruciating detail despite the fact that it has nothing to do with the plot.
And the bad guy? He's no longer the calm, stern mercenary so terrifyingly embodied by Robert Shaw. Now he's John Travolta in his standard over-the-top bad guy performance. Remember Broken Arrow and Face/Off and Swordfish? Talks through his teeth, acts with his neck? Aren't you tired of that guy?
I know I am.