Movie News & Reviews

'Pelham 123' takes zero chances

As a former mole-person of the New York City subway tunnels, it alwaysgets me to see the old homestead portrayed so biasedly in movies.

The focus is always on the bad things. The stained platforms. Thesolid mats of garbage between the tracks. The armies of rats leadingrat-crusades to reclaim their holy land of Jersey City. They nevershow the good -- our emphasis on recycling, our brave ability to passout in the middle of our own rambling stories, the way ourwaist-length beards flutter as we're performing our summer run of "DieFledermaus" for those two college students who went missing lastsemester.

-- Trailer, times, theaters.

-- Read Mr. Movie's review.

So it's located deep underground, it's filled with lost souls, andthere's people speaking in German. Doesn't that sound like heaven toyou? Yet to believe movies such as the regrettably unnoteworthy Takingof Pelham 1 2 3, you should somehow be scared to be kidnapped atgunpoint and held captive in what we like to call the "Palm Springs ofDank, Lightless Horror-Lands."

Under the streets of NYC, John Travolta and his band of thugs hijack asubway train, taking 19 hostages. They demand $10 million ransomdelivered in one hour or they'll start killing passengers one by one.

Hostage negotiations won't work -- the capricious Travolta will onlydeal with Denzel Washington, a low-level train dispatcher underinvestigation for taking bribes. With no other option, mayor JamesGandolfini rushes to pay the ransom before the mortal deadline.

If you're planning on seeing this, don't spend any time guessing wherethat plot will go, because you'll be right and then your brain will bemad at you for spoiling what's otherwise a thoroughly mediocrethriller, and you don't want your brain mad at you. Not when it hasthe power to bombard your pantsless computer time with mental imagesof shaved, winking donkeys.

Speaking of cool facial hair (what did you think I was talkingabout?), Travolta and his evildoer goatee is clearly meant to be a bigdraw in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. That could have worked:it's a truism that bad guys are always more fun to watch than goodguys, probably because deep down, we all secretly wish we couldbutcher 19 helpless subway passengers.

Travolta gives it what he's got, but writer Brian Helgeland pens hischaracter in as one more furious, whimsical sociopath out forvengeance on the society that did him dirty. Don't think I don'tidentify with that -- you all are going down -- but at this point thattype is roughly as old as the sun's grandpa.

Still, Travolta's got more personality than his hapless crime buddies,aka Scary Guy Who Gets Shot #1 and Scary Guy Who Gets Shot #2. Withsuch interchangeable characters, there's no motivation to get investedin any of them.

Veteran action director Tony Scott is at least skilled enough to keepthe pacing taut, and things look good enough in that way of "thismovie cost more to make than the gross income of your entire familyline dating back to when they used live crabs for money."

On top of that ringing endorsement, the movie makes no real missteps,probably because it takes absolutely zero chances. Slick but hollowlyderivative, Pelham is a movie you've seen before you walk intothe theater.

Grade: C