Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 123 (DVD)



DVD Review by Kam Williams


Headline: Denzel and Travolta’s Remake of Classic Thriller Released on DVD


                     John Godey’s best-selling novel, The Taking of Pelham 123, revolves around a quartet of armed crooks who hijack a New York City subway train and threaten to start killing passengers one-by-one unless their ransom demand is met in an hour. In the original, when Police Lieutenant Zachary Garber cracked the case, the gang’s ringleader, Bernard “Blue” Ryder, promptly committed suicide. The 1998, made-for-TV version had a different ending, and its hero had a different name and rank.

                     Now, in 2009, the protagonist has his original surname again, but he’s no longer a cop at all. Instead, Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is a disgraced subway dispatcher with a checkered past who could use a serious shot at redemption. His mission is to match wits with Ryder (John Travolta), a diabolical misanthrope who wants $10 million and hates Italians.

                     As for the respective support teams, Ryder’s partners in crime include Messrs. Green (Luis Guzman), Brown (Robert Vataj) and Grey (Vicytor Gojcaj). In the other corner, the Good Guys are led by the outgoing Mayor (James Gandolfini), Police Commissioner (Frank Wood) and the official police negotiator (John Turturro). Where the villain in the book was crafty and calculating, Travolta has reinterpreted the role as an unpredictable maniac likely to go off at any moment.  That scary intensity matches the tone being set by director Tony Scott (Déjà Vu) who seems far more inclined to cattle-prod his audience via a pounding soundtrack and dizzying cinematic tricks rather than to weave a credible cat-and-mouse caper.

                     Overall, this makes for a frenetic experience more akin to watching a music video or playing a computer game than to attempting to unravel a cerebral psychological thriller. That being said, Washington and Travolta are both still at the top of their games, and prove to be worthy adversaries.

                     A high-octane, attention-deficit adventure as riveting as it is ridiculous upon closer inspection.         


Very Good (3 stars)

Rated R for violence, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity. 

Running time: 106 minutes

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

DVD Extras: Commentary by the director, scriptwriter and producer, “the Making of” and several additional featurettes.

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