We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
There’s not much wrong with Tony Scott’s “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” except that there’s not much really right about it. Nobody gets terrifically worked up, except the special-effects people. Oh, John Travolta is angry and Denzel Washington is determined, but you don’t sense passion in the performances. They’re about behaving, not evoking.
The story you already know from cable TV. There are a few changes: The boss hijacker is now an ex-con instead of a former mercenary. The negotiator is now a transit executive, not a cop. The ransom has gone up from $1 million to $10 million. The special effects are much more hyperkinetic and absurd than before, which is not an improvement. When a police car has a high-speed collision, the result is usually consistent with the laws of gravity and physics, unlike in this film. It does not take flight and spin head over heels in the air.
The Washington and Travolta roles were played the first time around by Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. They fit into them naturally. Matthau in particular had a shaggy charm I am nostalgic for. Shaw brought cold steel to his performance. Denzel is ... nice. Sincere. Wants to clear his name. Travolta is so ruthless, it comes across as more peremptory than evil.
Since time immemorial, Vehicular Disaster Epics have depended on colorful and easily remembered secondary passengers: Nuns with guitars, middle-aged women with swimming medals, a pregnant woman about to go into labor, etc. This time, the passengers on the Pelham line disappoint. There’s a nice woman who’s worried about her child, and an ex-Army Ranger who comes to her aid. That’s about it. Few of the juicy ethnic stereotypes of the original.