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Calling a halt

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
15, Nationwide

29 July 2009

12:00 AM

29 July 2009

12:00 AM

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
15, Nationwide

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a remake of the 1974 film which starred Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw — remember the ending; the sneeze and the gesundheit? — and I don’t know how this remake got off the ground exactly, but I’m imagining the initial meeting went something like this:

Film Executive #1: ‘Let’s remake The Taking of Pelham One Two Three but do it dumber.’

Film Executive #2: ‘How much dumber?’


Film Executive #1: ‘Much, much dumber. And we’ll finish with an armed face-off instead of a sneeze. You can’t get less clever than that.’

Film Executive #2: ‘Great! I love it!’

Honestly, I sometimes think even I could cut it as a Hollywood player and, to this end, have even mooted a new version of Gone with the Wind, which also ends in an armed face-off. Obviously, I’m not going to tell you who gets it, Rhett or Scarlett, but I am happy to tell you this: for one of them, tomorrow is certainly not another day.

Anyhow, on to this film, which is directed with great hyperactivity by Tony Scott (Top Gun, Crimson Tide, that kind of thing), and does, at least, retain the basic premise. Here, we have Walter Garber (Denzel Washington in Matthau’s role), a New York City subway train dispatcher whose day doesn’t quite go to plan when one of the trains is hijacked by a gang of bad guys as led by Ryder (John Travolta, as Robert Shaw), who demands to be given $10 million within one hour. Ten million dollars doesn’t seem a great deal to me — didn’t Posh spend that on handbags last week? — but that’s what he wants, and for every minute over the hour he is kept waiting he will shoot one of the passengers now being held hostage. The clock begins its countdown, as shown by a clock counting down, but just to make sure, every now and then -— after the first ten minutes, for example — you get typed text on the screen exclaiming: ‘Fifty minutes until deadline!’, which is good, because who among us can subtract ten from 60? Anyway, Ryder refuses to communicate with anyone but Walter, leaving the lives of the hostages in his hands.

Although I haven’t seen the original in quite a few years, I don’t recall the plot not standing up, but as it’s been reconceived? Well, it has so many holes that if it were a cheese it actually wouldn’t be cheese, because it would be all hole. How come Garber, who has spent a lifetime working for the subway, doesn’t know about the old tunnel at Roosevelt? How come a hostage’s laptop streams images of the carriage to the outside world but nothing comes of it? Meanwhile, Denzel Washington sits in a chair a lot while Travolta chews up the scenery like there is no tomorrow, which there won’t be for Scarlett. Damn. I do wish I could keep my big mouth shut.

This is pointless, redundant, irrelevant film remaking, in which nothing of weight is ever at stake, and no relationships are ever formed. Ryder doesn’t even speak to the rest of his gang who, in the original, were called Mr Blue, Mr Green, Mr Brown and Mr Grey, a gimmick which Tarantino, the cheeky monkey, later stole for Reservoir Dogs. Avoid at all costs, and that includes the half-price showings on Wednesday afternoons. And now, because the films in August are generally rubbish and I have my own ideas to develop — Love Story, but ending in an armed face-off — I’m away for a month. So it’s goodbye, au revoir, arrivederci and, yes, gesundheit. If no one else is going to say it, I might as well.


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