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Movie Review - 'The Taking of Pelham 123'

The Taking of Pelham 123

Starring Denzel Washington, John Travolta, and John Turturro
Directed by Tony Scott
Rated R

pelhamposter.jpg 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.

As it stands, though, Pelham is mostly OK, but never approaches great. Director Tony Scott has been approaching great in a lot of his movies from the past ten years, achieving it with Washington in Man on Fire. But beginning with Enemy of the State, Scott (brother of Ridley) has worked and re-worked this kind of highly stylized action movie rooted in technology. It's there in Spy Game and Deja Vu, and in both of those instances, Scott's style is the best part of the movie.

So why would he make a movie about a train stopped underground? It wouldn't really matter if Washington's hero was worth rooting for or even if Travolta's villain was worth rooting against. One solution would be to give Denzel the roele of the hijacker. That wouldn't have made this a great moovie, but it would have picked up the pace quite a bit.

Reader Comments (2)


Saturday, June 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermusic video lyrics

I am a huge fan of the original film and was really disappointed to hear that it was being remade. Thanks for the review. Love your appearances on the Mike O'Meara Show!

Monday, June 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrian O'Donnell

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