GENRE: High-testosterone hostage drama remake
THE PITCH: A subway dispatcher under an ethics investigation (Denzel Washington) becomes an unexpected hostage negotiator when four heavily armed jerks (led by John Travolta) hijack an NYC subway car.
MONEY SHOTS: The giant computer map of all New York’s subway lines and cars in motion always looks cool. Two high-impact car crashes feature flips and other collateral damage during a race to deliver the money. Director Tony Scott frequently uses hilariously showy computer-enhanced satellite-to-street-level shots. I kind of like the dramatic moment when the Pelham 1 2 3 subway car blows past the platform used as a police base.
MONEY SOUNDS: MARTA riders and other subway commuters will have flashbacks whenever they hear that high-pitched, train-getting-up-to-speed noise.
BEST LINE: “I’m not running for re-election, I’m not running for president and I left my Rudy Giuliani suit at home,” declares James Gandolfini as New York’s mayor when he turns down a chance to step into the spotlight.
WORST LINE: “You know, this reminds me of being in a confessional,” Travolta tells Washington from the motorman’s compartment. Their dialogue consists of almost nothing but portentous declarations like “I don’t believe in fate” or “We all owe God a death.”
BODY COUNT: Seven, all involving grisly gunshots. One gun goes off accidentally when the shooter gets a tunnel rat in his pants.
FLESH FACTOR: A young passenger with a laptop and webcam — foreshadowing! — watches his girlfriend strip to her bra before shots are fired.
FASHION STATEMENTS: Supposedly Washington’s yellow shirt and pattern tie pay homage to Walter Matthau’s far more memorably ugly yellow tie and pattern shirt from the original film. The film’s kind of like a face-off between Washington’s diamond-studded left ear and Travolta’s crucifix-studded right ear.
MP3 TO BE: Jay Z’s swaggering “99 Problems” booms on the opening credits, which could be a music video titled “John Travolta’s a Badass. Really. We Swear.”
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Wouldn’t you like a Poland Spring to cool off after this life-or-death hostage negotiation?
BETTER THAN THE FIRST ONE? No. In 1974, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (available for free on Fancast) generated suspense in carefully showing the procedures of the heist, led by cool-as-a-cuke Robert Shaw. Plus, Matthau and supporting players such as Jerry Stiller generated plenty of laughs with the film’s celebration of profane New York attitudes. The new screenplay offers Internet-era bells and whistles, but it’s more about giving the two movie stars phony-baloney relationships, backstories, and redemption arcs instead of having fun.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Ultra-stylish director Tony Scott would seem to be perfect for the material, but instead he weakens the ticking-clock suspense with breakneck editing and the overused, fake slow-mo effect called “speed ramping.” Washington’s immense talent shines through, but Travolta’s ham-tastic over-emoting goes completely off the rails. Rent Washington’s previous, pungently New York-y hostage drama Inside Man instead.