Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

A friend of mine expressed some serious dismay when this movie ‘The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3’ was announced since it’s a remake - what a surprise - of a damn near forty year old movie that is among one of his favorites. He’s old. I had never seen the original and I informed my friend that I would waste no time in securing myself a copy to check it out. He advised me not to do this as watching the original may taint my opinion of the new movie. Seems like sound advice. So after watching Tony Scott’s remake of ‘The Taking of Phelam 1-2-3’ I am now more interested than ever in seeing Joseph Sergeant’s original. Not because the new movie is a bad movie… Tony Scott, Denzel Washington, John Travolta with a little Gandolfini and Guzman in support? A bad movie over here would be damn near impossible though Tony Scott did manage to pull this off with DeNiro and Snipes in ‘The Fan’ but I digress. But the reason I’m interested in the original film is because I’m guessing back in 1971 in the absence of flashes, dashes, quick cuts, lunacy and a whole lotta noise... a little substance might’ve been inserted here and there. But I’m just guessing.

This particular day starts like any other for central subway dispatcher Walter Garber (Washington), that is until one of his trains, Pehlam 123, stops dead on its tracks. This particular day a man that Garber will only know as Ryder (Travolta) along with three of his close, personal and heavily armed friends have hijacked one of the cars of Pehlam 123 and secured its passengers as hostages.

Ryder’s demands are rather simple; ten million dollars in an hours time or he starts killing a hostage a minute. Considering there are already a couple of dead dudes with bullet holes on the subway floor, it is apparent Ryder means business. So since we have some time to burn while the mayor of New York City (James Gandolfini) gathers this ten million in unmarked hundreds, Ryder and Garber might as well get to know each other. The hostage negotiator, Agent Camonetti (John Torturro), would rather Ryder talk with him but Ryder has made it pretty darned clear that the only person he is interested in dealing on with on this day is Mr. Garber.

Well if you’re going to spend good money to put John Travolta and Denzel Washington in a movie you might as well have them interact with one another and here is when ‘Pelham 123’ is at it’s best as we are privileged to watch these two cinematic veterans do what they do best while Tony Scott shoots the duos conversations in a way that keeps the tension level taut and the pace brisk. Through these conversations we find out that both of these men, as it would turn out, have a little excess baggage that they would rather keep us from discovering, but one of them is a complete and total lunatic. Now sit back and enjoy the show as we watch two middle-aged men chase each down a busy New York City street… more or less. If I knew Denzel Washington I’d have to ask him if that scene was as painful as it looked.

Even without seeing the original ‘Pehlam 123’ I’m pretty sure it doesn’t look a damn thing like this. Make no mistake that this is one helluva entertaining movie as Tony Scott’s camera jumps all over the place as Tony Scott’s camera tends to do. He has his favorite leading man on board in Denzel Washington playing what I believe is his first role playing a middle-aged dude, he is fifty four, but no matter what the age, he is still Denzel Washington and he still commands the screen. If there’s another actor out there who has more fun playing a bad guy than John Travolta, I’d like to see that cat because Travolta does evil like a spoiled kid in a candy shop. I halfway expected him to chime in with ‘Ain’t it cool’ just too totally set it off. The problem with the way John Travolta does evil is that no matter how rotten he is or what reprehensible thing he does you still wouldn’t mind hanging out with him. Travolta could do Hitler and make Hitler seem cool. However when Denzel Washington does evil… you just want to see his character die. Just different styles I suppose.

So we’ve established that this is some damned fine crowd pleasing entertainment correct? But this rendition of ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’ is also something you probably don’t want to ponder on too long because it is pretty darned silly. I mentioned before Mr. Washington chasing Mr. Travolta down the street which did seem a bit out of character for this guy. I realize that Denzel is the star and there’s no way to avoid this from happening between these two, and also I know the character feels the need to redeem himself and all, but at this point it probably would’ve made sense to turn this over to the proper authorities especially since I think Garber has done more than enough up to this point to garner favor for his past sins. And for the super complex heist that Ryder has rigged, one woulda thought the man would’ve have a tighter getaway plan. Quite honestly after Denzel got out of his controllers chair and entered the real world the movie kind of devolved into something else as opposed to continuing on the path of this super taut action thriller that it was shaping up to be because at that point, personally speaking, my limits of believability was pretty much broken.

But if the question is ‘Did I like this movie?’ then that answer is a simple one because like I said earlier I don’t think you can go too terribly wrong with Washington and Travolta with Tony Scott sitting in the big chair, and with that in mind ‘The Taking of Pehlam 123’ moves fast, is well acted, has about as much humor in a film based around a murderous hostage situation as one can humanly expect and it does entertain. Sure it stops making any kind of logical sense after a while but don’t most movies? Still looking forward to seeing the original though.

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