Imagine We Go Pelham (Weekly Links)

Reviews I did for the Herald this week.


Away We Go

The Taking of Pelham 123. (Dead link; review below)

by Robert Horton

The surefire suspense set-up of “The Taking of Pelham 123” can survive a lot of things. But it can’t survive the heavy hand of Tony Scott. The director of “Top Gun” and “Man on Fire” has his way with this remake of a 1974 film, and he drags Denzel Washington and John Travolta down with him.

There’s still some play in the basic situation: a bad guy calling himself Ryder (Travolta) takes a New York City subway car hostage, parks it on the tracks, and demands $10 million in one hour. He’ll begin shooting the 19 hostages one by one for each minute the money is late. His lifeline to the authorities is a transit employee, Walter Garber (Washington), with his own problems. A police negotiator (John Turturro) and the mayor (James Gandolfini) hover around while Garber and Ryder talk out the situation.

To give you an idea of the Scott method, periodically the screen will freeze and text will come up informing us how many minutes are left until the deadline. Why? Because Tony Scott doesn’t have faith in his own premise (which is really pretty hard to screw up, suspense-wise) and he doesn’t have faith in the audience. There are no women of consequence in the movie. Garber, a middle-aged civil service guy, naturally has a hot young wife (Aunjanue Ellis), with whom he interacts over the phone, just as he does with the madman. Scott also fills the screen with trademark technical gizmos; the subway system is tricked out with computer systems that seem left over from the “Minority Report” set. This is supposed to be cool.

We might at least expect some fireworks from Washington and Travolta, but both contribute one-note characterizations. If you’ve seen the original, you can’t help but recall Walter Matthau’s frumpy ease in the Washington role from the 1974 movie, to say nothing of his humor—elements sorely lacking here. Sometimes when a movie is cheesy (“Angels & Demons,” for instance), it can add a certain amount of popcorn-crunching fun. “Pelham 123” is full of cheddar, but its contrivances are more annoying than enjoyable, and after I while I had the distinct suspicion I knew how the hostages felt.

Imagine That. “A truly sweet-natured picture.”

Away We Go. “Immune to the actual business of being on the road.”

Sleep Dealer. “Points for ambition.”

And the regular commentators at Seattle Channel’s Art Zone in Studio give a recommendation for the summer; mine is a shameless one-minute plug for Rotten. Thanks, Nancy! The tips section commences at about 6:14 into the show, here.