Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Briefly: The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)

Tony Scott's remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 opens with a credits sequence set to Jay-Z's "99 Problems." The film itself has nearly that many. John Travolta and Denzel Washington, as a man who hijacks a 6 train and the MTA worker who receives his demands respectively, are no improvement over the earlier combination of Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. Neither is Brian Helgeland's modern take on the original 1973 novel; switching the hero from cop to MTA dispatcher adds an agreeable fish-out-of-water element but also makes the finale, in which Washington straps on a gun and saves the day, totally out of character. Prepare to be incredibly frustrated as you watch allegedly clever criminals make obviously dumb mistakes: how does Travolta, who's monitoring the hostage situation on the Internet, not notice as the national news grabs a webcamera feed from inside his train? Scott's glossier take on Joseph Sargent's grimy imagery has an undeniable panache, and there's no question he makes a story about two dudes talking on the phone an impressively lively visual experience. But his flashy editing and stutter-shutter effects slow down a movie that is supposed to be about speed, and he winds up obscuring the film's thrills rather than enhancing them.

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