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  Taking of Pelham 123, The Off The Rails
Year: 2009
Director: Tony Scott
Stars: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Luis Guzmán, Victor Gojcaj, John Turturro, Michael Rispoli, Ramon Rodriguez, James Gandolfini, John Benjamin Hickey, Alex Kaluzhsky, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Katherine Sigismond, Jake Richard Siciliano, Jason Butler Harner
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: The New York subway system on another ordinary day, or so it seems until one man (John Travolta) goes up to the Pelham 123 train and pulls a gun on the driver, giving him orders to allow one other man (Luis Guzmán) to join him in the cab as he goes and steps into the carriage. They're not the only ones in on this plan, as the authorities are about to find out when the control room notices that while Pelham 123 has departed from the station, for some reason it has stopped in the middle of a tunnel. Not only that, but the carriages have separated, though before the supervisor can send any staff to take a look, gunfire is heard - this is a hijack.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is one of the finest and best-loved thrillers of the nineteen-seventies, and while it had been remade before, as a TV movie in the nineties, this Tony Scott-directed version was the remake that received the attention. But not for very long, as it became clear it was a pale shadow of the original, in spite of a script by Brian Helgeland which drew from the bestselling John Godey novel, the trouble being that while Walter Matthau and company had provided sardonic humour and gritty suspense in their adaptation, here everything was strictly by the numbers in a typical high concept, low excitement flick.

It's not as if Scott appeared to have found anything in his version which was an improvement over the first one - early on, when Travolta's hijacker, calling himself Ryder, is described as treating his hostages like commodities, that's precisely what the filmmakers here are doing with their film as nothing in it has had any thought to it other than to make a bit of cash out of a cult classic that its potential audience might have caught on television, or at least heard the of premise somewhere. It's not easy to find material with two leading man roles for stars who are moving into middle age, and so this Pelham 123 is merely a vehicle for two ageing tough guys to go through the motions.

To its credit, the storyline it uses does not slavishly follow the original, and does try to find something different to do, so even if you've seen that previous effort then you won't know what is going to happen in this - except you could have a decent guess and probably be right. There's nothing of the ingenuity and delight at the surprises Matthau's Garber pulled here, so what you have instead is a selection of largely unilluminating character business to fill up the time between something actually occuring that might move the plot forward. Far too long is spent with Garber and Ryder yakking over the radio, and we find out to no great advantage that Garber is on a corruption charge, to make a comparison with the two men.

But of course Denzel Washington's leading man will come out looking far better than Travolta's bad guy, so all of this personality clashing comes to naught and merely makes the viewer impatient. James Gandolfini has a bit of fun as the mayor who doesn't really care that much, or so it seems, but John Turturro is wasted in a bland suit role as the lawman in charge of the operation to stop Ryder in his tracks, if you'll pardon the pun. Nods to the twenty-first century include one of the passengers having a webcam connection to his girlfriend, who naturally chooses to broadcast the crime to the nation, but even that doesn't go anywhere other than assisting the police in identifying the criminals, something the filmmakers are under the false impression we are particularly interested in. What we wanted was a tricksy thriller, what we got was nearly two hours of undemanding stodge, with Garber irksomely shrugging off the ending and not even knowing the difference between milk and orange juice. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Tony Scott  (1944 - 2012)

British-born director Tony Scott was the brother of director Ridley Scott and worked closely with him in their production company for film and television, both having made their names in the advertising business before moving onto glossy features for cinema. He shocked Hollywood by committing suicide by jumping from a bridge in Los Angeles for reasons that were never disclosed.

His first high profile film was vampire story The Hunger, but it was with his second, Top Gun, that he really arrived and became much sought after for his highly polished style with Beverly Hills Cop II following soon after. He hit a blip with his next two films, the flops Revenge and Days of Thunder, but found his feet once again in The Last Boy Scout, Quentin Tarantino's True Romance (often judged his best work), submarine thriller Crimson Tide, The Fan, spy suspenser Enemy of the State, Spy Game, and then a run of movies starring Denzel Washington including Man on Fire, Deja Vu and Unstoppable.

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