|The Taking of Pelham 123
Starring Denzel Washington, John Travolta, and John Turturro
It happens from time to time that the two leads in a movie should switch places. Sometimes it's just an aesthetic change; the kidnapping movie The Clearing probably would have been more revealing if a desperate Robert Redford had abducted the wealthy and collected Willem Dafoe, just to play it against type. In other cases, you've got two big name actors simply playing the wrong roles. Take, for example, the remake of the 70s heist movie The Taking of Pelham 123, which stars the estimable Denzel Washington and John Travolta. Denzel is one of the greats, as natural and believable an actor as we've ever seen. He's got depth, power, charm, intelligence, and everything else you need. Because of that, Denzel can play a wide variety of roles. John Travolta is cast as the villain here, and even though his archetypal bad guy has remained virtually the same since Broken Arrow over a decade ago, he just goes on cackling. You could give Travolta the Denzel role, that of a public transit dispatcher put in the crosshairs by a hijacker who has assumed control of a subway train in New York, and he could run with it. Outside of a scene or two, there's not much required of the role. But he's the villain, and because Travolta is so remarkably bad at playing them and Denzel so proven at showing nuance even when the character may not expressly call for it, you're left wondering how good this pretty average thriller could have been with one simple change.