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If you liked the original 'Pelham 123,' you'll like the remake

Movie review

Movie review

June 16, 2009|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail

"The Taking of Pelham 123" is a formula that's been done many times before. Your enjoyment of the film will largely depend on how long it's been since you've seen a film just like it.

If you can get though a 90-second commercial without thinking of three examples from the last decade, it might just be the film for you.

The film is about a hostage situation in New York City. A man known simply as Ryder (John Travolta) takes over a subway car from the "Pelham 123" train. Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is a disgraced subway dispatcher in an office miles downtown. He calls the train to ask why it has stopped in the middle of a tunnel.

Ryder doesn't want to talk to cops, but he'll talk to Garber. So Garber is suddenly the only man who can deal with his demands.

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Most of the film revolves around the cat-and-mouse games between Ryder and Garber. Ryder is fond of giving people seemingly impossible deadlines, and there's a lot of suspense.

Soon Garber is joined by other authorities. Camonetti (John Turturro) is a professional hostage negotiator. Turturro is well cast. He has a way of calming people down without putting exaggerated soothing sounds into his voice.

James Gandolfini is the unnamed mayor of New York, whose term is about to end. He's no longer terribly concerned with hiding his sleaziness. Still, he wants to see the hostages freed and turns out to be a surprising asset.

Both Washington and Travolta (especially Travolta) turn in good performances, but the casting decisions themselves are weird. Travolta keeps hurling ethnic slurs at the Italian Camonetti. Ryder may not be Italian, but Travolta is. If they wanted to cast Travolta in the role, couldn't they have taken out the Italian slurs? Or made Camonetti a different ethnicity? It's just distracting the way it is.

As for Washington, he's played hostage negotiators before. 2006's "Inside Man" comes to mind, but I'm sure there have been others. Why would they want us to watch him squirm uncomfortably in a role that we all know he can nail? It would be like casting Alex Giroux (superstar left wing of my hometown Calder Cup-winning Hershey Bears) as an absolute beginner hockey player who has to learn the basics. Stop with the struggling and give us more time for action.

In fact, there's very little action in "The Taking of Pelham 123." Most of the movie is about the interactions between Garber and Ryder. Ryder is one of those eloquent movie villains that is always in control of the situation and always has a speech or a story ready. He's also eager to get Garber to open up about a secret from his own past. Not because it's important, just because he can.

A hostage situation in New York City, an unlikely hero and a smart villain who's willing to kill people in order to get his money faster. There's not much that's original about "The Taking of Pelham 123." But if you like the formula and want to see the film anyway, please go see it. It's at least a worthy entry in an overcrowded genre.

"The Taking of Pelham 123" is rated R for violence and pervasive language. Its runtime is 106 minutes.

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