“The Taking of Pelham 123”
At Quality 16 and Showcase
2 out of 5 stars
“The Taking of Pelham 123,” the remake of director Joseph Sargent’s 1974 classic, recycles all the ingenuity of the original and offers nothing new to modern audiences. The newly released “Pelham” is a trainwreck of inconsistency and inadequacy.
Walter Garber (Denzel Washington, “American Gangster”) is a New York subway dispatcher who notices that one of the trains, Pelham 123, has mysteriously stopped en route. As it turns out, a man known only as Ryder (John Travolta, “Wild Hogs”) has hijacked the train and is demanding ransom money in exchange for his hostages’ safety. The plot of this version of “Pelham” stays fairly true to its 1974 counterpart with, of course, a 2009 touch-up. Streaming video over the internet, GPS and other modern gadgets and technologies allow a more contemporary audience to better appreciate and connect with the remake.
But the movie does so many other things wrong that making an overall connection is impossible. The biggest gripe about “Pelham” is how misguided it feels. The tempo of the movie flip-flops between high-paced action scenes and moments of very slow dialogue. One scene has blaring police cars racing through the streets of New York while the next has a philosophical discussion between Ryder and Garber. Whether or not the suspense is meant to be building during these slow points remains a mystery because, simply put, the film’s production is poorly executed.
The most annoying examples of production gone wrong are the high-octane sessions that are purposely shot in blurry slow motion. With this technique, any chance of adrenaline is immediately killed. Ultimately, the audience is stuck in a semi-energized state throughout the whole film.
The action in “Pelham” is OK, but certainly nothing awe-inspiring. There are the typical exploding cars and shootouts, but not much else. Another problem with “Pelham” is that it suffers from a bad case of mediocrity. It does enough to get by, and that’s pretty much it. With no crazy special effects, plot twists or surprises, “Pelham” really only appeals to those already familiar with the older version of the movie.
One of the few good things about the film is its acting. Travolta and Washington are both convincing enough so as not to create another problematic distraction. Travolta may actually beat out Washington in terms of what he brings to his respective character. Washington is always solid, but Travolta adds a sense of realness to Ryder. Ryder displays logical inconsistencies, frequent profanity and deceptive moral alignment, traits that are so familiar with reality. Ryder is not the typical mastermind, and that’s more than fine.
Remakes of classic movies rarely ever succeed in bringing anything new to the table, and “Pelham” is no exception. With sub-par action, incongruous tempo and zero ingenuity, the film is doomed to be one long, bumpy ride.