Remakes don’t exist anymore. Only re-imaginings. With this in mind the new version of the 1974 hit ‘The Taking Of Pelham One, Two, Three’ (oooh look, they even changed the written numbers to digits) succeeds.
Instead of a tightly-wound thriller about the battle of wits between an everyman transport cop (Walter Matthau) and a mastermind criminal (Robert Shaw), we now have a balls-to-the-wall action movie about a pissed off Wall Street scumbag (John Travolta) and a corrupt subway chief (Denzel Wahington) having a bit of a chinwag before running all over New York amid car crashes and the kind of direction that makes Michael Bay go from South to North in under ten seconds.
From the opening scene of John Travolta getting ready for the hijack to the tune of Jay-Z ’99 Problems’ (for literally no reason) to the flashy, all-over-the-place camera work (for literally no reason) the film never really makes any sense.
But to be fair to Tony Scott et al, this is probably the best approach. To try and ‘re-do’ a classic will almost always get the critics’ knickers in a twist as well as any fans of the original. By repackaging the concept as a real-time action film there’s certainly no time to question the validity of the myriad backstories that don’t hold any water. Instead you just switch off and put up with the journey. Just like riding on the tube.
That’s not to say there isn’t some fun to be had. Denzel is always, always good for your money. By comparing this performance to his Creasy in ‘Man On Fire’ (the director and star’s first film of three) you can see why many think he’s one of the greatest actors working today.
As for John Travolta, I’ve never really liked his mad, crazy bad guy roles in anything from ‘Broken Arrow’ to ‘Swordfish’. But here, looking every part the gay strongman, he succeeds. The sort of bad guy you kinda want to get away with it, especially when he’s screaming dialogue like “Lick my bumhole motherfucker!”.
Subplots involving James Gandolfini’s philandering Mayor and some bumph about Denzel taking a bribe all seem a little out of place in what is essentially a heist movie. But just as interest wanes the director will throw in some stupid police-bike chases and some really stupid (and pointless) computer graphics of New York, just to remind you that this is all just a bit of dumb fun really.
Despite its host of flaws, there’s so little on at the cinema in the summer season I’ll actually recommend this. Ask me again in September and I may well change my mind.