The Taking of Pelham 123
“Go ahead and make one more smart comment about my mustache … go ahead!”

Theatrical Release Date: 06/12/2009
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, Luis Guzmán, Michael Rispoli

Hitting theaters this weekend is Tony Scott’s latest collaboration with Denzel Washington, “The Taking of Pelham 123″. A remake of the 1974 original, the story revolves around a New York City transit employee burdened with the task of negotiating with a criminal (John Travolta) who’s taken a subway train full of passengers hostage (the new version replaces Walter Matthau with Denzel … which is interesting to say the least).

As per usual, the brains behind the caper is using the overt crime to mask something else. As per usual, the henchmen aren’t exactly the brightest bulbs in the hallway. As per usual, our city civil servant everyman is able to match wits with the criminal mastermind. And as per usual, passengers on the train display varying degrees of bravery and self-preservation (though not as much as you’d expect as the hostages get little development).

Perhaps it’s fitting that the title of the film includes “123″ because it all follows a tried and true formula that filmgoers have seen time and again. There aren’t any real twists and the one that’s intended to throw the cops for a loop is foreshadowed more than one of Wile E. Coyote’s traps for the Roadrunner.

Denzel Washington does fine in his role but it’s about as interesting a character on-screen as his turns in “Inside Man” or “Deja Vu” … which is to say, not much. The attempt to make him a flawed character doesn’t end up endearing him to the audience any more than he had been already and just don’t expect any award attention for the critically acclaimed actor on this one.

The real star of the picture is John Travolta. It’s no shock that playing a villain seems to be the more exciting and fun challenge for an actor and Travolta relishes in going off the deep end of a stereotypical bad guy. His characterization of the evil doer in “Pelham” is the refinement of less successful (but just as cheesy) attempts at this role in “Swordfish”, “Broken Arrow” and “Face/Off”. It’s clear he enjoys being able to do wrong on-screen and his joy in doing so is evident. It’s far too cliché to be iconic or really all that noteworthy but it’s sort of fun to watch.

Helping Denzel with the fundamentals of hostage negotiation is John Turturro. He too tends to be a little one note in films, rehashing many of the same character traits time and again, but I enjoy his performances nonetheless. His energy helps to break up the monotony of Denzel vs. Travolta, which is all his character is really required to do in the script.

As for the rest of the film, “The Taking of Pelham 123″ is essentially “Enemy of the State” on the New York City public transit system … minus the high tech and replacing Will Smith, Jon Voight and Gene Hackman with Washington, Travolta and Turturro. This doesn’t quite have the same social impact or character development but if that fails to bother you, then I understand why you’d take a trip to the theaters for director Tony Scott’s latest crime thriller.

For fans of his work, the usual film making fingerprints are all over this one, utilizing quick edits, varying frame rates, compositing one frame on-top of another, and rotating the camera around characters to heighten the drama. While his bag of tricks tends to rub me the wrong way because if feels a little gimmicky, it does give Scott a very recognizable style and I can see why people tend to enjoy his films as the summer shoot ‘em ups they are.

As such, I’ll give “The Taking of Pelham 123″ a 3 out of 5 and leave it up to you to decide if you’re looking for a copycat of almost any other Tony Scott film … that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’d have been just as satisfied (if not more so) by watching one of his previous works like “Man on Fire”, “Enemy of the State” or “The Last Boy Scout”.

It’s like going out to dinner and always ordering a roast beef sandwich – it tastes fine and I’m fairly full, but it’d be nice to get a little variety. Crap, now I’m hungry.