I wanted The Taking of Pelham 123 to be great, or at least kinda fun — full of thrills and interesting characters with a few little one-liners tossed in. Expecting too much? Maybe. But I was disappointed nonetheless because it turns out this movie is predictable and forgettable. It managed to keep my attention for a while, but mostly it's just blah.
For the most part, what you see in the trailers is what you get, in terms of plot: A crazy guy who wants to be called Ryder (John Travolta) hijacks a subway car in New York and he demands millions of dollars in exchange for the hostages' lives. He tells the dispatcher, Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), that the mayor (played a sleazy New Yorker to a "T") has one hour to get Ryder the money and for every minute they're late after the hour, he's going to kill a hostage. Ryder becomes attached to Garber and he forces Garber's secrets to come to light during their interactions, which everyone in the Garber's room can hear — including his boss and the mayor of New York. Ultimately Ryder wants Garber to deliver the money personally, and then we wait to see whether or not Garber can stop Ryder from continuing on with his plans once he gets the money. For more of my thoughts, read more.
In attempts to make up for the lack of drama, or to fill in the gaps between the few genuinely tense moments, director Tony Scott favors fast-paced montages of crowded subway platforms and general New York "hustle and bustle." Zooming camera shots, blurry quick-moving figures alternate with "dramatic" slow-motion and close-ups on grim faces, all set to loud tunes like "99 Problems." Because, you know, Ryder is a tough guy. This is a tough guy's game because Jay-Z says so. At first, this distracts us from the fact that we don't really care much about this story, but that wears off as the movie wears on.
Denzel Washington often brings an elegance and gracefulness to his characters, and he always exhibits a calm control over his performances. We're supposed to like Walter Garber, and we do, but this entire thriller can't rest on this particular average Joe's shoulders, no matter how nicely Washington presents him. Garber's not all that compelling. Supposedly providing the jolts of craziness (and therefore, in this case, entertainment), is John Travolta who gets a few really good lines in but who mostly seems like he's impersonating a crazy person rather than inhabiting an actual character.
Theoretically this should be an excellent Summer movie — digestible, intriguing, exciting. But I can't recommend this for a theater-going experience. It'll probably be a pretty solid rental, if you're quite bored. I wanted to be swept up in the mystery of it all (why is Ryder doing this? How will he pull it off? How will they stop him?) and the tension of the situation, but really, it's a silly movie. In order to get swept up, I'd have to be able to take the movie seriously and it just wouldn't let me do that.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures