The Taking of Pelham 123
I am not a fan of Tony Scott. He strikes me as not much different from Michael Bay - both have a needlessly overwrought directing style that pretends to be skillful when it's really just being show-offy. He has nothing on his far more talented brother Ridley. His two saving graces are that he picks smart scripts - well, smarter than Bay's - and that he's a friend of Denzel Washington, who's made four movies with him so far.
But those graces can't always save him.
Walter Garber (Washington) is the New York subway dispatcher on duty when the Pelham 123 train is hijacked and its passengers held for ransom. The leader of the hijackers, who calls himself Ryder (John Travolta), insists on communicating only with Garber, and a rapport develops between the two; Ryder even forces Garber to admit to a shameful secret that he is hiding. Garber is aided by hostage negotiator Lt. Camonetti (John Turturro), while the Mayor (James Gandolfini) arranges for the $10 million ransom to be delivered before Ryder's threat to start killing hostages is realized.
This is the second high-profile Hollywood film I've seen this week that serves up a tired old story we've seen dozens of times. There's a charismatic villain with an ingenious plan. There's an everyman hero who is the only person who can stop the villain. There are glimpses of the hostages, some of whom add complications to the plot. There are higher authorities involved, and the hero is alternately aided by those who trust him and hindered by those who are just plain assholes. And finally, the hero and the villain will meet face-to-face in an action-packed climax. It's predictable, because it's all been done before.
It's also been done a lot better before. Ryder's plan isn't particularly intricate, which means little cat-and-mouse maneuvering between the cops and the crooks. The action is mostly limited to the subway transit office and the verbal byplay between Ryder and Garber - which isn't really as tense as it should be, despite a scene in which the criminal forces the civil servant to admit to taking a bribe. Ryder isn't a very interesting villain, and Travolta plays him with a lot of manic shouty intensity, but fails to give him the depth that the screenplay should have supplied. And this is one of Washington's rare poor performances. Walter Garber has the responsibility of 18 innocent lives thrust upon him, and he only seems mildly perturbed by this. Again, it's the screenplay that doesn't give him any truly meaty scenes.
John Turturro is a curious choice for the wise and experienced cop character; it's not that he doesn't do a good job, but we just saw him as the goofy Agent Simmons in that other movie directed by a guy who's all style and no substance. (And yes, that's Ramon Rodriguez in there too.) Scott's direction is not effective, it's distracting. The camera can never stay still; it's either shaking all over the place, or dollying, or panning so fast everything becomes a blur. There's a slow-motion shot every five goddamn minutes. I recommend sitting far back from the screen if you don't want a splitting headache. (And speaking of distracting - the profanity-laden dialogue is pretty badly chopped up. Big middle finger to you, Lembaga Penapisan Filem.)
And then there's the climax, in which... no. Sorry. Not buying it. Everyman civil servant, former subway train driver and current desk jockey, schlubby old Walter Garber, grabs a gun and goes after the bad guys? Even gets into a car chase? Not buying it for a New York minute. Whose idea was this??
I've been pretty harsh on this movie so far, so let me just say that it's decent laa. It's effective. You might get a few thrills out of it, if you haven't watched any hostage action-thriller film from the past 25 years. But it really makes you wonder, why? Why remake a 1974 minor classic into a movie that's so stale and cliched? Do they really expect audiences to keep lapping up the same old same old? Doesn't anyone in Hollywood have any new ideas anymore? If they do, better hope Tony Scott doesn't get his hands on it.
NEXT REVIEW: sigh. Guess it's gonna have to be Land of the Lost
Anticipation level: siiiiiggghhh