On DVD: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3


There comes a point in the repetitive nature of films where the phrase “run-of-the-mill” just won’t do. In the case of the remake of the train hijack/ransom heist thriller “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” the mill has been running so much that maybe the more adequate phrase should be the past tense “ran.” Tony Scott’s “Pelham” does give us those vital and homey conventions of the “mad man takes hostages and demands millions” movie, but the story is so straightforward and the film as a whole never seems to take itself seriously enough to completely hook its audience and pull them into the situation.

First there’s John Travolta, rocking some creepy facial hair, senseless tattoos and shouting swear words at authorities like it’s the third grade and his buddy just taught them to him. Considering “Pelham” is not a movie that aims to dig into the psychological background of its antagonist, his attempt to play up the Joker-esquire semi-insanity of his character is pointless. The script does coax you to guess the motive of his character, but the ultimate answer isn’t good enough to justify Travolta’s performance. Even Denzel Washington, unlike previous Tony Scott thrillers, is relegated to spectacles and a weak attitude. The characters offer very little gravity to the hostage situation.

In the film, Travolta and his cronies hijack a New York City subway train and hold everyone in it hostage for $10 million dollars In the process. Washington’s character, the man who oversees that section of the rail traffic, gets stuck in the situation because Travolta’s character takes a strong liking to him from their radio conversations.

Travolta’s “all guts, no glory” attitude does keep you in suspense for brief moments when he might kill another hostage, but the attempts to make us really care about the hostages on board are feeble and half-hearted. I really don’t pity the guy video chatting with his girlfriend during the crisis who keeps stupidly demanding that he tell her he loves her when he could get shot if he says something. Then there’s the matter of him getting Internet down in the tunnel, but that would have been more forgivable if it weren’t such a cop out.

The only real solid other than Washington despite his limitations is the direction of Scott, who does everything in his power to keep up the intensity of this bare bones movie. Speeding blur transition to mimic the feeling of a train as it barrels by and briefly freezing moments and giving us title cards to show time ticking down until the deadline for the money exchange are a few of the techniques that the master of highly watchable thrillers employs.

“Pelham” isn’t horrid, it just doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table. It makes no effort to stand out among the dozens of ransom thrillers that came before it other than that it involves a subway train. Unless you’re a sucker for the genre, “Pelham” won’t feel like it made enough effort to go beyond mere sufficiency and I say that having really enjoyed Scott’s “Deja Vu” and “Man on Fire,” for example. I’d recommend searching for a thriller that might have something more to offer before trying out “Pelham.”

2.5/5 Stars

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Brian Helgeland (screenplay), Joe Godey
Starring: Denzel Washington, John Travolta


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