Monday, June 15, 2009
Nog Takes The Taking of Pelham 123 to Task for Numerous Things
The original (1974) Taking of Pelham 123, with the great Walter Matthau and the badass Robert Shaw, is a crackerjack thriller (which seems to have inspired Reservoir Dogs' use of Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, etc). The Tony Scott remake, despite a few good qualities, is ultimately a cookie-cutter Hollywood product. The basic premise (hostages taken, one to be executed each minute if money is not delivered in one hour) is inherently suspenseful, but Scott does his damndest to ruin it with every unecessary trick in the book (let me obnoxiously freeze-frame the action every once in awhile during important scenes! let me spin my camera around in 360-degree angles while people are talking in case the audience is too dumb to follow the conversation!). Denzel Washington is very good, as usual, as a troubled subway controller (a "maestro," his coworkers call him) who's been demoted to a temporary desk-job and finds himself suddenly enmeshed in the complicated hostage situation, led by John Travolta (miscast and mostly given lines like "I'll fuck you in your fucking greaseball ass"...is this really the same Brian Helgeland who wrote L.A. Confidential?). When Scott relaxes and lets the tension build naturally, through the negotiations, the movie works well enough (to give the screenplay some credit, the film has been somewhat cleverly updated in light of post-9/11 New York and even, to some extent, the financial crisis). But the ultimate failure (the final underestimation of the audience) tranforms Denzel, in the last half hour, into a totally unbelieveable action hero that's no way in line with what we've been told about his character. The original film ends with a wonderfully subtle joke in which the villain accidentally gives his identity away; Scott's version ends with a chase and a shootout. I half expected some fighting robots to emerge near the end.