Sunday 2 August 2009

Review: The Taking of Pelham 123

Year: 2009
Director: Tony Scott
Screenplay:Brian Helgelhand
Starring: Denziel Washington, John Travolta,

I didn't even know there was an original Pelham film until it was mentioned by a slightly older friend of mine when we saw the trailer for the remake during a recent film screening. Because of this I have not yet seen the original film and so will not make much mention of it. However I will say that Hollywood prays on this kind of ignorance, and so a big budget remake has been made.

Was it worth the money? Maybe to the odd teenager or so. Pelham has an above average imdb rating at this moment in time and it currently has a fresher % rating than some of the larger event movies of the summer. However Pelham is so uneven it becomes frustrating, The first half of the movie is entertaining, the second, bland and uninteresting. Denziel Washington is (as always) watchable, while Travolta makes Megan Fox look like an Oscar winner. The film is constantly at odds with itself and because of this it becomes merely passable.

Compered to some of the more scathing reviews of Pelham, I did manage to take some good out of it. For one I loved the dialogue, there's some quick witted one liners that made me crack a smile or two. In fact much of the dialogue distracted me from some of the more dubious elements of the screenplay but more on that later.

To add to this, Scott's direction during the first half of the film (when the film runs of a deadline) has a taut build up which reminds me of earlier Tony Scott movies, but it is in saying this which presents one of the films main problems. The film only works when it slows down. When Scott scraps the MTV crap that he has suddenly decided to hold dear since 2004 (although it did work with Man on Fire) the movie becomes....a movie. With so many people baying for Micheal Mann's blood for the digital work on Public Enemies (many stating that it's "not a movie") They should really take a closer look at the haphazard cutting that is going on in Tony Scott's movies since Domino, because some of this shit is horrid and the second half of this movie is no exception. Mann went for realism while Scott's gone of incomprehensible......I know which one I'd pick.

So when the film allows to hold a shot for a couple of seconds on the workman-like performances John Turturro and Denziel Washington, it doesn't bore. We've seen both in better films with better roles an average performance from these two is still a million times better than a good one from say Haydren Christensen (is there one?).

However, remember what I said about uneven? Well two ok displays by Washington and Turturro are almost cancelled out by a ball breaking, jaw-clenching, downright shocking performance by John Travolta. The question isn't is it bad rather, it's how bad is it? the answer: extraordinarily. Travolta's role is nothing more than overacted, Flem spitting rants which did nothing but take me out of the film. None of what he does fits his character (although the screenplay never gets the villain right in the first place) and his interaction with Washington is piss poor. Travolta performance is so bad it sucks the tension of when he and Washington actually meet. That's right friends the hip shaker from Grease is nothing more than a charisma vacuum in this film. Sorry John but Pulp Fiction was quite a while ago now.

This finally brings me to the screenplay, which has crackling dialogue but a plot which lapses in basic common sense far too often. The plot relies on stupid coincidences to push the story on, the aforementioned antagonist is completely wrong for the film (for a man planning something like this, why does he have no composure at all?) while Scott hyper-active direction tries to hide the fact that the films climax is lackluster.

All in all, this Pelham remake is nothing more than a vanilla film. A plain Jane, whose wearing too much lipstick to make up for the fact that no ones asked her to dance. Once again I am disappointed and strangely relieved that I own a lot of Scott's better work on DVD. They're trashy alright, but a damn sight more rewatchable than this one night rental.

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