‘The Taking of Pelham 123’ Review: Action Minus Movement Equals?

Posted in Screening Room by - November 21, 2015

When I started (and pitched) our month of remakes, I knew I was signing myself and the rest of the Kulture Shocked up for a slew of terrible movies. I am that kind of monster. But what I didn’t intend to put people up to were just plain bland movies.

So it’s only fair that I had one of the titans of tedium, Tony Scott’s The Taking of Pelham 123. Starring Denzel Washington as the New York subway dispatcher, Walter Garber, and John Travolta as the hijacker known only as “Ryder,” this movie is pitched to be a modern-day thriller in the underground, a battle of wits between two parallel forces. But that’s not what we get.

Instead, this version of Pelham is a limp hour-and-forty that talks big philosophical game, but only delivers on a manic series of panning shots of men on phones and jagged cross-cuts. Armed with the latest shaky-cam and motion blur technology, Scott tries to make a high-octane action flick out of an unmoving subway car and a crowded dispatch room. Between the 24­-esque time countdown that randomly appears throughout the movie, the inappropriate smash-cuts to yet another person on a radio, and the stop-and-start pacing, this movie is a technical mess.

That’s not even starting in on the acting of the piece. By no means bad, every delivery in this film is just limp. Garber is supposed to have some “dark past,” but Washington doesn’t sell it, and the payoff is moot. We’re supposed to care about the passengers taken hostage and revile the men who hold them at gunpoint, but both sides are so under-developed that you can’t get invested in either team’s blandness enough to build the kind of passion required for sympathy or hate. And, oh, does Travolta show he should NOT be a villain. He tries to be imposing or menacing, but comes off half-cocked, like some middle schooler’s idea of an edgy and intimidating terrorist. Instead of being a wild card or a calculating mastermind, he’s a swearing, stupid bully who’s as manic as the film, itself. Travolta never makes his threat known by more than some harsh language and a hasty shooting, if not for this, he may as well be a Wacky Racers villain – he’s over-the-top to the point of comical, and completely impotent.

Unlike last week’s film, however, Pelham doesn’t hit rock bottom. There’s some interesting concepts, and the scenery is nice. Once the action really DOES kick in, it is rather tense and attempts to be engaging; but by the time these good pieces show up, the audience is so un-invested that there’s nothing to salvage. Much like the characters themselves, 2009’s Taking of Pelham 123 can’t get me fired up even enough to hate it. Just a pitiable crawl through boredom and a lack of inspiration.

Final Verdict: Skip It

This post was written by
He is a Nebraska native and UNL Honors alum with an ever-relevant degree in English. When he isn’t working his day job or writing for Kulture Shocked, Ben spends his time as an independent game designer, seeking to publish his first board game. You can also find him modeling for art classes around Lincoln or online as Dlark17 on most major gaming platforms.
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