It happens every once in a while: movies that are saved by the acting chops of its stars. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is such a case. The movie, directed by action veteran Tony Scott and starring two Hollywood powerhouses in the likes of John Travolta and Denzel Washington, starts off on a high note only to end on a low one. Which is a shame because it has much potential
Having never seen the original I’m taking a fresh point of view. Well not entirely fresh as movies where one guy hijacks something, holds hostages and starts a dialogue with someone on the other side is nothing new. In a way Dog Day Afternoon did that but more specifically The Negotiator followed that pattern as well. Standing in for Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey are Washington and Travolta who serve the job to bring their characters to life. Washington is a dispatcher who’s task is to try to bring the hostage taking to a safe end while Travolta is the uber-violent hostage taker who likes to show he’s in demand. He has a double agenda, one I guessed early on when we saw some computer-screens. It’s pretty obvious, but it also made me wonder a couple of things.
Travolta is a rich guy so why not hire some thugs to do the whole hostage-taking? Maybe because he’s a psycho, but even then. He’s a smart guy, and smart guys hire stupid guys to do this stuff for them so that they don’t get their hands dirty. The revelation about Travolta’s motives makes the movie feel kind of like a cheat.
Of course Travolta and his debating counterpart Washington end up face to face but when that happens it’s all by the book and the cat and mouse game that ensues isn’t very involving and pretty much by the book.
The movie isn’t all bad. The first half is pretty good as Travolta chews scenery as if the script was printed on bubblegum. Washington is his reliable instant-likeable self; No Oscar-winning performances here though. These performances aided by solid turns from John Turturro and James Gandolfini make you forget at times that this is a rather disappointing movie.