Review of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Saturday, August 28, 2010 • 8:52am
I don't object to remakes of older films if they are artistically justified. A good remake can provide a new and interesting slant on the source material. For example, when Tim Burton remade Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005, he successfully presented a new interpretation of Roald Dahl's original book. But the changes filmmakers make to distinguish their new version of an old movie aren't always successful. Such is the case with the recently released The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.
Directed by Tony Scott and written by Brian Helgeland, the new film uses the bare bones of the 1974 original's scenario. A psychopathic leader of a gang of thugs named Ryder (John Travolta) hijacks a New York City subway and threatens to kill the passengers unless he receives a ransom in one hour. It is up to subway dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) to try to outwit Ryder and rescue the hostages.
Audiences who saw the first movie weren't given background information on the protagonist and his nemesis; it was sufficiently suspenseful for them to watch them dueling over the passengers' fates. But Helgeland wants today's moviegoers to understand what makes Garber and Ryder tick, examining each of their lives.
Does this biographical data flesh out Washington and Travolta's characters? Nope, it just distracts the viewers from what should be the only conflict -- whether the hostages will live or die. And Helgeland's attempt at a backstory for Ryder in particular -- that he was once a Wall Street inside trader -- damages the villain's credibility.
If Ryder was once a white-collar businessman, why does he rant and curse like a punk from the wrong side of the tracks? Being a charismatic performer, Travolta can't help but entertain as Ryder. But his acting is too over the top to make him believably intimidating. Robert Shaw was far more frightening in the original because he was chillingly restrained.
Washington is good as Garber, but compared to Matthau in the 1974 version, he's distressingly bland. Washington's acting is too smooth, lacking the grit and sardonic humor that distinguished Matthau's performance. Talented supporting players like John Turturro as a hostage negotiator and James Gandolfini as the beleaguered mayor are given too little to do.
Like the first film, this movie was filmed on location. But Tony Scott spoils the authentic urban milieu with nausea-inducing camera trickery like color shifts and fast and slow motion sequences. These devices are so gimmicky that instead of enhancing the tense atmosphere, they detract from it. The car crashes, for example, can't convey genuine horror or tragedy because the special effects are blatantly overdone.
The 1974 film was a well-crafted thriller that efficiently glided the action along to an understated yet rousing conclusion and vividly depicted the seediness and the perils of the Big Apple. But this new movie is a bloated and vapid mediocrity, bogged down by flashy visuals and unnecessary plot complications. What's the point of a remake if it messes up all the elements that made the original film worthwhile?
Now playing at Clearview Millburn Cinemas in Millburn, NJ, it is rated R for violence and pervasive language.
Raymond Valinoti, Jr. is a librarian, freelance writer and researcher. He writes movie reviews for TheAlternativePress.com
The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.