THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123:
This movie about a New York subway hijacking is a prime example of pacing and style attempting to triumph over implausibility and a decided lack of substance. Tony Scott’s (TRUE ROMANCE) direction is hyperactive enough to require Ritalin at the expense of giving any real dimension to his characters except for Denzel Washington’s (GLORY) transit worker. Even the hostages appear blandly nonplussed despite seeing people around them getting shot multiple times. If they apparently didn’t care about their own fates, it was hard for me to do so as well. In fact, it occurred to me during the closing credits that I didn’t even know the names of two of the villains because of their inability to register any on-screen persona. The special effects are gratuitous along with the rapid-fire editing and the interminable aerial shots of Gotham which act as transitions between scenes. Brian Helgeland’s (MYSTIC RIVER) screenplay is full of plot holes involving the main hijacker’s (John Travolta) scheme to have the robbery cause a panic sell-off in the stock market (Hu?). It’s a far cry from the original 1974 Walter Matthau-Robert Shaw film that nobody saw and the excellence and influence (See critic’s note) of which lay in its minimalist manner of generating real-time suspense, absent from this remake. This work can best be described as slick and not in a good way. It reminded me of the fast-talking salesman who really doesn’t want you to hear what he’s saying because if you did you’d realize that he’s really saying nothing at all. That sums up how I feel about this “retooled” work which is completely off track in its presentation.
CRITIC’S NOTE: In the original 1974 movie, the four subway hijackers had “colored” aliases of Blue, Brown, Gray and Green in order to communicate without divulging their real last names. One of the few people who saw and enjoyed this earlier work was director Quentin Tarantino (PULP FICTION) who paid a subtle homage to the film by naming his jewelry store robbers in RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) Mr. Blonde, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink and Mr. White.