By George Rose
September 9, 2009
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)
Speaking of summer disappointments! Okay, so I didn't watch this in the airport, but it was one of two movies I got to see at the outdoor theater in Chios. The first (The Reader) was in the beginning of the summer and was very good (Grade: A-). The second was Pelham 1 2 3, which I saw just a few days ago as my bon voyage gift with my Greek friends. I requested one more outing to the garden theater and the only movie playing that day was Pelham. In retrospect, I should have gone drinking for free one more time.
The movie is a remake of a movie based off a book. After two previous outings, you think the story would be done to death. Director Tony Scott thought otherwise. John Travolta stars as a former Wall Street big shot named Ryder (Really? The guy riding the train is named Ryder? Yawn!) who hijacks a subway. He starts to make all sorts of threats and demands, and the poor soul on the other end of the receiver is Denzel Washington. What should have been a routine day at work has turned into a crash course in criminal negotiating, not something the already stressed out employee wants to deal with on top of his pending felony charges for taking a bribe while on the railroad job.
At first, I was surprised by all the negative criticism the movie received earlier in the summer. Despite Travolta being named Ryder (seriously?!), the characters initially seem complex and their back-and-forth banter is rather entertaining. The acting starts superb then it just gets outright ridiculous. Travolta starts screaming "mother f*cker" so often it loses its punch and his voice begins to crack. Though Washington plays his part with believable dismay, I couldn't help but think someone had just kicked his child into traffic. Sure, the situation calls for confusion and panic, but his eyes were glossed over in sadness nearly the entire time. Emoting is one thing, being overly emotional is another. How am I supposed to believe this pansy saves the day? But he sure does play a great pansy!
After the train is hijacked, the action starts and the movie gets into its groove. Demands are made, hostages are taken and killed, and everyone is just so utterly helpless. Sometimes I wonder if cops and the city governor (played here by an unusually bumbling James Gandolfini) would really deal with such nonsense. Sure, you can't put a price on the lives of 17 train passengers (though Travolta does, at around $10 million), but how many people were harmed and how much public property was damaged in racing the money to the right subway station on time? It's not like the passengers were worth saving, either. A man who is too scared to take a piss? An obnoxious child who doesn't understand a hostage situation? A retro teenager who is video chatting with his girlfriend while on a subway? I've never opened my laptop on a subway, let alone turned it on and entertain someone with kissy faces and affection.
At this point, I wasn't surprised in the least when his laptop got more screen time than he did. After the train comes to a screeching halt, he drops it underneath his seat. Later, when the criminals rig their own wireless Internet in the tunnels (I'm pretty sure that isn't possible), the video chat is reactivated and the kid's girlfriend begins streaming the footage on their Web site for the whole world to see. Well, gee, it's a good thing he dropped it, because it ends up being the only way the cops can identify who Ryder really is. But, aw shucks, the computer loses power and hope seems lost. Until it magically regains power? My computer never does that. If anything, it dies sooner than the little icon on the bottom right of my screen promises. And what do the bad guys do when they find this computer? Do they shoot the kid for aiding in the derailment of their plans? No, they chuckle!