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Non-Review Review: The Taking Pelham 123

Much like the titular train, The Taking of Pelham 123 runs almost perfectly to schedule, making all the mandatory stops. Sure, it is confined to the storytelling tracks of a cut-out hostage drama, checking all the necessary fields. It doesn’t do this in anyway exceptionally, nor does it do anything original or daring. Still, Tony Scott is a very talented director and he has two more-than-capable leads to work with, so we have a perfectly mediocre action film to work with.

Travolta trains (geddit?) his sights on a hostage?

Truth be told, there’s really no particular need for this remake. The original is a perfectly solid film, and tere’s really no need to remake anything unless you believe you can improve on the original, or otherwise improve it. Though, to be honest, there have been far worse remakes produced, so maybe mediocrity is perfectly acceptable. And complaining about the constant stream of average remakes and reimaginings coming out of Hollywood is kinda pointless, particularly when there are so many horribly terrible remakes and reimaginings constantly being released.

The Taking of Pelham 123 does almost exactly what it does on the back of its DVD box. It’s a hostage negotiation drama featuring the connection between the hostage-taker and the civil servent who happens to take the call. What follows is a per formula race against time to get the money together, figure out why the hostage-taker is doing what he’s doing and to save the day, all of which is interspaced with occasional back-and-forth dialogue between the two. By the way, I wonder if I was the only Irish person to wonder what would have happened if Travolta’s Ryder had tried that over here. Good luck trying to get a civil servent to organise a money transfer to deadline.

“I have the hostages, and I’ll kill one every minute past the deadline you make me wait!”

“I’m sorry, sir, you’ll have to wait. The customer services are all on lunch. If you want I can take your number and have someone call you back next week?”

“Didn’t you hear me, I will kill them!”

“Sir… sir… please… your tone is not condusive to discussion. I’m going to have to ask you calm down. You’ll have to try again later. Would you like to fill out a customer services survey for the chance to win a Cineworld voucher?”

Anyway, these small interpersonal scene work surprisingly well because Travolta and Washington have chemistry. Unfortunately, the roles are beneath both performers, but they try. Washington lets himself go slightly to get into character as a buttoned-down metro operator, and Travolta seems to embrace the opportunity for scenery chewing the role involves. Of course, their dialogue is strictly the stuff of cliché, with both men running from shameful secrets in their past.

If only the movie could decide if it wants Travolta to be sympathetic. An early sequence has him wincing at the casual brutallity of one of his hired goons, yet he shows no remorse for his own actions later on. He seems to genuinely share a connection with Washington’s contoller (even remarking that he likes him to a fellow hostage-taker), but is incredibly manipulative. The movie hints at some sort of grand motivation for his actions and… there is, but it doesn’t really add a great deal to his character.

The movie also seems to waiver back and forth on whether the system is inherently leveraged against the individual – whether they are just a cog in the gigantic machine. Both Ryder and Garber are being screwed by the system and the film goes back and forth as to whether any of the authority figures are really that competent (we are introduced to Garber’s manipulative supervisor and the mayor is initially presented as a man resentful of his obligations – not to mention the continuing ineffectiveness of the NYPD). Either both men are being punished for doing something wrong or the system is just grinding them with its heel. I’m not quite sure what to make of the ending.

Scott attempts to give the movie a timely feel by attaching words like ‘terrorist’ and playing into some of the stock market rumours that circle around the September 11th attacks, and throwing a few nods towards the present economic climate. None of these really get explored, and are used as token character motivations or twists, but they seem to be a bit distracting or ‘on the nose’, distracting away from what should be the central drama – either the dialogue between the two leads or the hostage drama.

Outside of this, the movie is a fairly conventional action thriller. Scott is on familiar ground. I’ll concede that he doesn’t seem to milk the claustrophobia inherent in a railway car trapped in a tunnel, but he an certainly do tension. And the film’s action sequences (which mostly involve a car chase which we really don’t need to see, to be honest) are well produced. And he carries the film through to it’s climax, which is strictly as one would expect, but manages to execute it successfully.

There’s not too much to really note going on here. It isn’t exceptional, and is probably best suited to late night fare rather than going out of your way to see. It’s just a shame that there’s so much talent involved in the production and the end result is so solidly mediocre.

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