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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

If it’s still true that the demographic that drives Hollywood is the 18- to 35-year-olds, then I fail to see the market potential in remaking a movie that was released the year in which the oldest of those potential viewers were born. Fans of the 1974 The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, one of the top three or four crime thrillers of that decade, are not likely to be impressed by this new version (it was also remade in 1998 as a TV movie), which strips away everything that made the original film work and replaces it with little but window dressing. The action plays out in more or less real time as a quartet of armed men take over a Manhattan subway car and threaten to kill a passenger a minute if their ransom demands aren’t met in exactly one hour. The 1974 film balanced the suspenseful elements—will the city deliver in time? And even if it does, how do these criminals expect to get away?—with a wealth of terrific detail about how a big city functions as the actions of a lot of individuals. The ensemble cast is brimming with well-known character faces but no real stars (the closest is Walter Matthau). As directed by the relentlessly louderfaster Tony Scott (Déjà vu, Man on Fire, Domino, ad infinitum), this version boils down to four key players: John Travolta as the head bad guy; Denzel Washington as the traffic controller he communicates with; James Gandolfini as the mayor; and John Tuturro as a hostage negotiator. Travolta plays the manic babbler in love with the sound of his own voice—in other words, the standard Travolta role. Washington brings his standard dose of common guy humanity that Scott (who employs him a lot) must assume mitigates the mechanical coldness of his movies. There are attempts to update the story with subplots about stock market manipulation and Washington being under investigation for accepting a bribe, and the interior of the subway car is visible to the cops on the internet, but none of this makes a whole lot of difference to the story. It’s reasonably interesting anyway, at least until a perfectly lousy final reel (and utterly stupid ending) that ruins anything that was good about the rest of the movie. Save your money and rent the original.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

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