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"The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3"

Directed by Tony Scott.
Written by Brian Helgeland.  Based on the novel by John Godey.
Starring Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turtorro and James Gandolfini.
Release Year:  2009

Review Date:  6/16/09

Folks--

Sometimes, they should just leave well enough alone.

The original movie version of "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" was a 1970s thriller with some laughs thanks to a ho-hum performance by Walter Matthau as a New York City transit supervisor who witnesses a subway train hijacking at the hands of four hardened criminals.  It was not great, but it did have a great score and it had 1970s over-the-top acting by its bit players.  The remake of this film--based, like the original, on a novel by John Godey--is unnecessarily profane like movies USED to be; it doesn't have much action but when anyone gets shot, they get lit the hell up; it again features four criminals, but this time, one of them is not only a bad guy fresh outta prison, but he's fresh outta prison for...white collar financial crimes???  So, he hijacks a subway train???

I'm getting ahead of myself here.  Hostage films generally don't do it for me, but I like to give everyone a fair shake; what the updated version of "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" does have going for it is a more believable lead in Denzel Washington as disgraced NYC transit cop Walter Garber.  This time around, he's been given a backstory--he happens to get the ransom/demands call from the lead baddie named Ryder (John Travolta, doing a mix of his baddies from "Broken Arrow" and "The Punisher") a few days after being charged with taking a bribe at an industry trade show.  So, he's in a fragile state when he gets the call from Ryder, and some of the dialogue between the two men is not bad.  This is the major improvement over the original film.

The rest of this, though?  Uhh, not good.

James Gandolfini plays the New York City mayor in a way similar to how he's portrayed in the previous film--as someone mildly puts it, he's quite the douchebag.  Gandolfini looks terrible (not to mention, terribly miscast) and adds nothing to this throwaway part...here's to hoping that his post-"Sopranos" career doesn't consistently look like this!  John Turturro plays a cop or a NYCTP higher-up that also gives us nothing throughout his brief screen time...it was almost like the movie was shot on location in New York City and somebody said "Hey, you wanna see if Turturro's at home right now?  Muthafucka works for free anyway..."  Even scenes like the movie's scattershot intro could have been better if someone told director Tony Scott (the director of hyper-stylized fare such as "Spy Game" and "Domino", now that he's post-"Top Gun") to actually play Jay-Z's "99 Problems" straight through, instead of cutting it into four pieces.

There isn't much action; Luis Guzman shows up and utters like four lines as one of the principal bad guys (the other two have basically no lines); even the dude that played Chris on "The Wire" has a throwaway role here.  There were a couple of funny moments whenever the Travolta character just ends scenes with lines like "I'm getting off the fucking phone, motherfucker!!", but then you mix that with a subplot featuring a girl who demands that her boyfriend say "I love you" during an chat session on the boyfriend's laptop, while providing the world with a glimpse of the terrorist situation on the subway train.  Ugh.

I talked to my friend Chi over the weekend and I told him he needed to see it because despite the slight improvement in the lead character, there were a lot of people collecting a LOT of fucking checks in this movie.  I mean, come on, how dumb do we look here???

Rating:  Rental

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 06/16/09