Rated R for violence and pervasive language, 106 minutes
Washington, Travolta a splashy team in the energetic remake "Pelham 123"
"The Taking of Pelham 123" is not your ordinary heist film. First, it's a remake of the classic 1974 film starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. Second, it's helmed by consummate visual filmmaker Tony Scott. And of course - the most important thing - it has two gifted A-list actors in Denzel Washington and John Travolta. This updated "Pelham" is fast-paced, energetic, immensely entertaining and largely implausible. But the whole Washington-Travolta pairing (who share just a few scenes together) is enjoyable enough to carry the film above its flaws.
New York City subway dispatcher Walter Garber's (Washington) ordinary day is thrown into disorder by an audacious, blatant crime: the hijacking of a subway train. Ryder (Travolta), a criminal mastermind and former Wall Street guru, leads a highly-armed gang threatening to execute the train's passengers unless a ransom of $10 million is paid within one hour. As the tension mounts before his eyes, Garber uses his vast knowledge of the subway system in a colorful battle to outwit Ryder and work quickly before the thieves successfully escape with the cash and leave behind a bunch of dead hostages.
The splashy, enjoyable big-screen Washington-Travolta pairing is the highlight of "The Taking of Pelham 123," a swiftly made, vivid film from director Scott, who has directed Washington several times ("Crimson Tide" and "Deja Vu" among them). Just so you know, the intense plot unravels with such nimble pacing and dizzying editing that requires its audience to keep up and keep time.
"Pelham 123" reveals the accomplished Scott strength's and weaknesses. His strengths are colorful visuals, brisk pacing and the ability to juggle some big-name actors. His weaknesses: a lack of realism and those annoying, unnecessarily jumpy cuts from scene to scene. But "Pelham's" strengths outweigh the weaknesses, and it will carry you to a suspenseful cat-and-mouse finale on the streets of New York City between the two engaging actors.
Speaking of which, Washington gives a remarkably subdued, low-key performance that's a striking contrast to the showy, profane and over-the-top performance from Travolta. Sure, he chews on the scenery like never before and throws out more F-bombs from an A-list actor heard in some time, but he also makes a terrific, amusing bad guy. Most of Washington and Travolta's "Pelham" scenes are initially blathering on about money, death and religion as the time clocks clicks down but the movie enlivens considerably when the two actors finally get together in the film's last act. John Turturro, "The Sopranos"James Gandolfini and familiar character actor Luis Guzman round out the gifted cast.
"Pelham" is an absorbing, above-average tense action-thriller that should please the masses. You won't believe a bit of it (minor digressions: Internet access way below ground, who works on a cash-only basis these days and why do NYC city officials seem so dumb?) and Scott paints the strokes too broadly and colorfully at times, but "The Taking of Pelham 123" does its job just fine, and you'll leave both entertained and satisfied.