Don’t Take Pelham 123

In the lull between movies about robot wars, RVANews decides to check out an action movie about public transportation. It turns out that the plot was on rails. Hey-oh!

the_taking_of_pelham_1_2_3Hostage movies are really about people. Which is the kind of statement that is super eye-rollable, because every movie is about people. The point, though, of course, is that it’s the unusual, interesting people involved in the hostage taking or rescuing that drive these movies to be powerful. Think of the top hostage movies you’ve seen: Die Hard, where Bruce Willis is potentially the most interesting hostage rescuer ever; Dog Day Afternoon, where Michael and Fredo Corleone preside frantically over a botched robbery that spirals out of control; or even Beauty and the Beast, as captivity drives a beautiful nerdy interesting heroine to insanity and ultimately Stockholm Syndrome, as inanimate objects begin to speak to her and her monstrous jailor becomes, finally, to her, a prince.

The Taking of Pelham 123, unfortunately, contains characters approximately as interesting as the average subway car, which is another way to say that they aren’t interesting at all. Denzel Washington, played by Denzel Washington, is a subway switchboard guy in New York City. Bad John Travolta, played by John Travolta (there is a Good John Travolta [Grease, Face/Off] a Bad John Travolta [Swordfish, Face/Off], and a Female John Travolta [Hairspray]), hijacks a subway car, which actually means he takes it to a place and then stops and waits. When Washington notices that the subway car has stopped and starts hailing the driver, Travolta sets up the rules of this particular hostage movie, and the plot begins to move down the well-established, entirely uninteresting rails of Hostage Movie Convention.

Without giving too much away for those of you who are into entirely homogeneous uninteresting hostage movies and just can’t wait to hit the theater, Pelham‘s plot is most notable because of what doesn’t happen. There aren’t any incredible realizations or reveals or riddles solved that help the good guys break the bad guys down. There aren’t any brilliant, game-changing plans by the bad guys that we’ve never seen before. Quite the opposite, in fact. Enjoyment of this movie requires strong suppression of the “Why did they [bad guys, good guys, cameramen, whoever] do that thing? That made zero sense at all, and in fact no person would do that ever” reflex.

That isn’t to say that there is no tension. As is necessary for an action movie of this type, there are the occasional Things that need to be transported to a Place which not Go As Planned. Top Gun and Crimson Tide were quite long ago for director Tony Scott, but they did happen. At the same time, it’s pretty hard to understand what is transpiring when the camera is crammed up John Travolta’s nose and set to choppy blur mode. One can almost imagine Scott on set, cajoling Denzel to make a more intense version of the Denzel Washington Concerned And Confused Yet Smily Face, and coaching Travolta into his Pursed Lips, Knitted Brows, I Am A Very Bad Man face, while bringing the camera in closer and closer with each subsequent take.

At this point in the review, the canny and subtext-understanding reader typically has gathered enough information to understand whether she would like to expend hard-earned dollars, precious particularly in this economy, for the viewing of a particular moving picture. But for those still on the fence about such questions, allow me to administer a simple test.

Question One: Would you be excited by a movie with a scene where a subway car goes faster than the subway car speed limit? We’re talking tens upon tens of miles per hour, here.

If you answered yes, then, by all means, go take Pelham 123 to all of its tedious, uninteresting stops. I personally wish I had stuck to movies about robots or balloons.

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Justin Morgan

Justin Morgan knows that there is no problem an Excel spreadsheet, a sweet tea, and a pass to the tight end won’t solve.

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