Back in 1974, the big screen audience was introduced to the world of Lt. Garber and Blue. It was a world of danger, death, and quick timing. Every minute that passed had lives hanging in the balance, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats. The movie was called The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and it starred Walter Matthau as the everyman and Robert Shaw as the terrorist (is that the right word? he does terrorize folks). I have not seen that movie. I know, that is a shocking revelation, but believe me when I say there are a ton of movies out there I have not seen yet.
This new take on the John Godey source novel seems to use a slightly different approach than the original. "But how can you say that if you have not seen the original?" you may say. Well, it is pretty easy to see just looking at the names involved. In the place of Walter Matthau you have Denzel Washington, thus changing the complete dynamic of the everyman. Denzel has an inherent intelligence around him that comes to all of his roles, this makes him a little difficult to identify with as the everyman, unlike Walter Matthau who has that aura of a guy you could just hang around with, thus easier to relate to. Then you have John Travolta slipping into the Robert Shaw role. Now, I cannot place Shaw at all, but the idea of Travolta as a bad ass is a little comical. Finally, slip Tony Scott into Joseph Sargent's director's chair and you have an intrinsically different experience. Those two directors are, shall we say, just a little bit different.
The film opens with an annoying opening credit sequence that is reminiscent of one of those anti-piracy ads you see on DVDs. It gives the impression of a student film with its overuse of camera effects like quick cuts and jittery slow motion. Combine that with an opening score that severely overuses the sound of a train horn. Seriously, how many times can you listen to that whistle blow? I cannot say these opening moments were terribly inspiring.
What followed those credits was 100 minutes of mediocrity edited in the cliche MTV-style of quick cuts, swish pans, and in-your-face flash for the ADD-addled youth of the nation. Yes, it does tone down somewhat, but the movie still feels as if it has been edited and processed to within an inch of its life.
The story has Walter Garber (Washington) as a train dispatcher, who is also being investigated for taking a bribe. He is watching the trains go by on his screen, smooth as silk, that its until something goes wrong. Pelham 1 2 3 starts acting strange. Garber watches it stop, unexpectedly, and then separate a few cars that proceed to move back down the track. He immediately gets on the mic and tries to ascertain what is going on.
Down on the tracks we find John Travolta, calling himself Ryder (rather than Robert Shaw's Blue), and his small group of merry men, including Luis Guzman. They are busy taking car of immobilizing the train, setting up their own monitoring and getting their plan underway. This is where the fun begins.
The movie is not terrible, but it is not all that awe-inspiring either. The good comes in the form of the give and take between Washington and Travolta, particularly from Washington's side of the microphone. There is plenty of give and take between the two as Garber tries to extricate himself from the situation while not getting anyone killed. Meanwhile, Ryder is bugnuts crazy, but crazy like a fox. The man may be something of a loose cannon, but he is also cold and calculating, he remembers his details and does not get tripped up. So, while it may not be the most intelligent of scripts, the performers do their best to inject a high level of intensity into it.
The story is a familiar one, so I do not feel the need to go into this in too much detail, suffice to say, the tension is there, and it will hold your interest. The problem is that when it comes to an end you will walk away and soon forget it, possibly wishing you'd stayed home and watched the original.