Sunday, February 7, 2010

Movies: The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3 (2009)

While a decent way to pass 106 minutes of an eight hour transatlantic flight in the opposite direction of your fiancé , The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3 is little more, and certainly nothing approaching the tightly-orchestrated adagio of Joseph Sargent's 1974 version, in which the hijackers wear trench coats, tortoise-rimmed glasses, and fake moustaches, and call each other Mr. Brown, Mr. Gray, and Mr. Green. Instead, we are given a disgruntled hedge fund manager (John Travolta, who is looking more and more like a trailer park child molester these days) out to get back at New York City by crashing the stock market and making good on gold, and a few not-so-bright Latino henchmen he picked up in prison (where he was sent for some kind of white-collar scheme). Instead of Walter Matthau at headquarters, we are offered Denzel Washington. Ten years ago, Travolta v. Washington could be almost as promising as Pacino v. DeNiro in Heat, but these days, both are pretty washed up.

Washington has some kind of dark secret which comes out during his cat-and-mousing with Travolta. It turns out he accepted a bribe while overseas negotiating a contract for the purchase of new trains—so that he could pay his daughters' college tuition. Luckily, Mayor James Gandolfini is more than willing to erase that from his permanent record after Washington risks his life chasing Travolta through the city, both underground in the subway tunnels, through traffic-filled streets (obligatory car chase!)*, and on foot across the Manhattan bridge, eventually shooting the man dead (somewhat against his will, of course, as he is a good citizen who has never before shot a gun). Gone is the 1974 mayor, who was sick in bed with the flu when the ransom order came in, and his griping about the filth that is (was) New York—which was the funniest part of the movie.

This film could have been so much more than a B-level action flick people watched on the plane, but the screenplay is so lazy (why?! More than half the work was done in '74!) and reliant on stereotypes that the competent cast can't get it off the ground. The original film does typecast the hostages (even in the credits, they are listed as The Mother, The Homosexual, The Hooker, The Pimp), but they are just hostages—the story is not theirs. Tony Scott's version, perhaps stabbing at egalitarianism, lets each hostage shine for a moment—the soldier who dies so that a mother's child can live, the undercover cop who tries to save the day but is shot dead, and the college kid whose girlfriend witnesses the entire takeover via skype on his laptop (ugh). Meanwhile, we never get a clear understanding of our hero.

*The movie also includes an obligatory rat bite.

No comments: