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Eli’s Plot Twist – The Taking of Pelham 123 review
Al Qaeda is so last week apparently. Current event relevance is the new name of the game, and the bad guy of choice is now (as always, major spoilers ahead) Wall Street bankers. We used to worry about Saudis blowing up the New York financial district, now we are afraid of that very same institution. Well, it may not be the first time there has been a sea change in Hollywood ne’re-do-wells, and certainly won’t be the last, but this go ‘round falls flat.
Don’t get me wrong, seeing John Travolta go bug nuts was well worth the meager price of admittance, and the movie wasn’t terrible. I would equate it in both look and fell with an episode of CSI, as there is a noticeable lack of summer action movie destruction. Further more, most of the destruction that does happen seems to be a result of incompetent police work than any intention the bad guys may have. I was lured in by the prospect of police cars flipped around city streets like bowling pins.
As the ransom money races to the metro station, hostage lives in the balance, I thoroughly expected the bad guys to take out the caravan. They need not bother though, because the police managed to flip a taxi cab several times (keep on going, just ignore it and maybe it will go away), crash a motorcycle into a parked car (uh, should we stop?), and finally get t-boned by an ambulance, going airborne into a tunnel entrance. Travolta didn’t even have to lift a finger to crash the cop’s party.
Travolta as bad guy ‘Ryder’ is a great throw back to his wonderful villain days in the ‘classic’ John Woo films Broken Arrow and Face/Off. Travolta is a great bad guy, and he has a lot of fun as foul mouthed alpha male Dennis Ford. A cast of throwaway henchman is serviceable, if generic, and gets the job done. The initial takeover of the train is pretty smart and ruthless, but the intelligence of the takeover is overshadowed by the third act stupidity, maybe to balance out the cop’s earlier bungling.
Denzel Washington plays Garber, down on his luck as an MTA worker. There is a back story, but it doesn’t matter. Garber needs reconciling for past sins, and playing average guy in dangerous plot is his way of doing that. Denzel is the master of charming dialogue and everyman empathy, but Tony Scott films seem a bit under his pay grade, like an ugly guy dating a hot girl. Tony Scott can be great (Man on Fire) but is just as often atrocious (Domino). This movie falls in the middle, but it seems Denzel could have gotten a better pick of summer thriller, maybe one where a subway car actually gets derailed or blown up or something entertaining.
The idea of average Americans hijacked by some banker’s whacked out get rich quick scheme should have some allegorical weight these days. On the contrary, I failed to believe that any Wall Street type would be a total wuss, unable to deal with the prison economy. I was expecting white supremacists from the commercials, which would have been a better and more believable story. The gun fights seem much more intense than usual, there was a lot of blood. The unrealism isn’t in crazy action or regular plot holes, it’s more subtle.
Travolta is able to make a 15,000 percent return on his gold stocks, the real reason behind his heist. The terrorist goons miss the laptop streaming a young man’s internet chat session with his annoying girlfriend. This last bit is the source of the most realistic (and my favorite) part of the movie. Whilst the young man is on the ground, hands over head, his girlfriend demands that confesses he loves her, over streaming internet chat. “It’s a little hard to talk” he says to which she replies “Yes would have been a lot easier to say than ‘it’s a little hard to talk.’” For all the nonsense in this movie, they got the ‘ol ‘girlfriend whining about fealty at the worst possible moment’ bit right on the nose. James Gandolfini turns in a good role as the mayor too, for the record.
As the movie ends, Travolta departs in a cab with a marquee that says ‘Made in NYC.’ Yes movie, we got the message, New York capitalists ruined the economy, we are all hostage to their whims. But we have a lot to worry about these days, including ho-hum Tony Scott/Denzel Washington flicks that are long on flash, but low on substance.