Vail movies: Nothing new to see in ‘The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3’ | VailDaily.com

Vail movies: Nothing new to see in ‘The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3’

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyJohn Travolta stars alongside Denzel Washington and James Gadolfini in the film "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3," which is now showing in the Vail Valley
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VAIl, Colorado – I don’t understand why Hollywood directors are so eager to remake or update movies. Could you imagine if novelist Dan Brown rewrote Hemingway’s “A Farewell To Arms” or if Stephen King “updated” Henry James’ “A Turn Of The Screw?” Sacrilege, right? Not to say that every movie that gets remade isn’t an improvement on the original ( “3:10 To Yuma” comes to mind) but they mostly feel flat and unnecessary.

Regardless, this week “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” was based on the book by Morton Freedgood and yes, I know that negates the whole stealing somebody else’s idea argument), and just like the trailers suggest, you get a lot of fast moving action without a whole lot of substance.

In this version of “Pelham,” Denzel Washington plays Walter Garber, a dispatcher for the New York City subway system who has the unfortunate luck of being on duty when a subway car is hijacked in his jurisdiction. The hijacker is handlebar mustache-wearing, tattoo-sporting, criminal mastermind Ryder (John Travolta) and his band of henchmen who really don’t do too much during the heist other than look tough and pace around the subway car looking mean.

This is definitely Travolta’s show and he makes sure we know that from the opening scenes as he barks orders and rants about how underappreciated he is by society. Amazingly it’s Washington who underplays his role as the mild-mannered public servant who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and who also may have a criminal past of his own.

Once Ryder takes control of the subway car and hostages, he demands $10 million within the hour for their release or his trigger finger will get more than a little itchy. The film wisely focuses on the dynamic between Travolta, a homicidal maniac with a penchant for using the f word and talking about God, and Washington, who tries to keep the hostages alive while meeting the criminal’s demands. Travolta clearly enjoys the freedom he has to act all crazy and wild even though he’s one of the least scary bad guys I’ve seen on screen in a while.

In the race to get the money to the subway, cop cars get destroyed, motorcycles get flipped and helicopters whirl around the city as the clock ticks down, and it is very intense – good enough for the explosions and loud-noises crowd anyway.

The thing I hate most about movies like this is that they’re not bad enough to hate and not good enough to defend. And that’s usually what you get when Hollywood decides to remake a movie even though there’s really no reason for it and the original was fine the way it was. This version of “Pelham” doesn’t really bring enough to the table to make it worth the while, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining. In this version, a little more depth is given to the main characters than the original and, of course, the special effects are bigger and louder. The plot is tweaked to include religious themes and domestic terror becomes a major part of the dialogue, but that’s about it.

“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” follows the traditional heist-movie formula to the tee without a shred of originality. Most of the characters are bland (with the exception of James Gandolfini as the mayor of New York who almost steals the movie in the little screen time he has) and most of the action is standard. But I guess if you’re going to see a movie about kidnapping a subway car this summer, this one will do.