a critiQal film review The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Armed men, led by Ryder (Travolta), forcibly capture a New York subway train and hold it for ransom, threatening to kill a passenger every hour until their demands are met. As the police start dealing with the hostage takers, a NYC transit worker (Washington) races against time to help end the tense situation.

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  • ...Travolta's fun as a bad guy and Denzel plays "average joe" well, but the tension never seems to ratchet just quite high enough

After seeing the last Denzel Washington film directed by Tony Scott (Deja Vu (2006)), I was definitely interested in their latest team-up, The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3. Toss in John Travolta as a bad guy (who I still fondly remember as a baddie in Broken Arrow (1996)), and I knew this one was going to be part of our Summer At The Movies ’09.

After seeing some positive reviews, I was even more interested in seeing The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3, even though I’d never seen the original film – or read the book for that matter. So, even when the theater we were ushered into had some sound quality problems, I still couldn’t wait to see this one.

But, are Denzel and Travolta getting a bit peaked for action films, or will Tony Scott be able to deliver yet again?

Denzel Washington is actually starting to look old. After years of being the suave young guy, he’s now the older been-around-the-block a few times sort, and his salt-and-pepper hair and beard shows it in The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3. While his recent Man on Fire (2004) actually used that to the film’s advantage, it works against him in this film.

Since he’s really not a spry guy in this film, watching him race after bad guys looks a bit silly, especially since the average person would run to the authorities, rather than rush after the bad guys all by himself. Usually films get away with this because the hero has had some sort of training, be it through the police, special forces, etc. In this case, however, he hasn’t had training of any kind, so having him go the extra mile seems a bit odd.

Be that as it may, Washington’s “average Joe” performance is right on, and his performance helps keep the viewer interested.

Travolta’s bad guy is a mixture of both positives and negatives. When he’s going for evil, Travolta nails it each and every time. When he’s going for the misunderstood criminal, however, he falters a bit, and the viewer loses a bit of their interest. Thankfully, he’s actually bad most of the film and viewers should enjoy his villainous performance.

With an introduction that includes lots of blurry images and a rockin’ beat from Jay-Z, the film at first seems to be a lot more thrilling than it actually is. After that opening sequence – which includes viewer’s first look at tough-guy Travolta – the film calms down a bit, and the action is a lot less intense than one may at first think.

While the film is decent, there seems to be something slightly off. The performances are decent, the action sequences are good and the storyline seems like it should be entirely gripping, but the tension just doesn’t ratchet quite high enough. There just doesn’t seem to be enough passion in the characters – instead, it feels a bit too scripted to really let the actors show their full potential.

A decent movie, but not really a stand-out in a summer full of high-octane films, making The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3 probably a decent rental for most, rather than a theater viewing.

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