Taking what is basically a two-hander and turning it into an action thriller is no mean feat, and “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” director Tony Scott almost pulls it off. Until the end, that is.
In this updated remake of the 1974 thriller that starred Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, Scott begins well, casting two of Hollywood’s top draws in the protagonist-antagonist leading roles. A burly Denzel Washington is Walter Garber, a NYC Metro Transit Authority lifer, whose career has sort of hit the skids. Thus he’s manning the radio of the MTA’s subway command center when the call come in from one of the 6 trains on the way to Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. It seems that a gang has hijacked the train (the “1 2 3” in the title refers to the actual train, not the 6 line it is traveling on), and are holding a car full of people hostage in one of the dark tunnels.
Ryder, played with a ruthless intensity by John Travolta, is the leader of the gun-toting ex-cons out for a big score. He’s the one that Garber gets on the radio, and when he makes his demands and threats on the lives of his hostages, the action really heats up.
Tony Scott certainly knows how to make an exciting thriller (“Enemy of the State” is one of his best); in this case, the aboveground race to get the ransom together and delivered in time to keep the hostages alive serves to create the excitement. Meanwhile, Travolta and Washington spend most of the movie sparring over the radio, developing a weird symbiotic relationship as the single hour that Ryder gives the city to come up with the cash counts down.
Both leading men are impressive in their roles, and James Gandolfini steals every scene he is in, as the Bloomberg-inspired mayor of the Big Apple. He’s terrific, and there isn’t an iota of Tony Soprano leaking out around the edges of his performance.
So what’s the problem, why the mediocre star rating given here? It’s the ending, as Ryder and his gang head for the sunlight with bags chockablock with cash. Once they hit the streets of the city and begin their getaway, “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” devolves into a ludicrous, groan-inducing finale. And it was going so well!
So be warned, but if seeing Denzel Washington and John Travolta do what they do best is a draw, then by all means go see this film. For they are doing impressive work here, despite the ridiculous last ten minutes of the movie. Your call.
Studio/Official Site: http://www.catchthetrain.com/