The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009): A Crash Course in Lazy Screenwriting

Starring: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, Luis Guzman, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Frank Wood, James Gandolfini, Ramon Rodriguez, Victor Gojcaj, Robert Vataj, Michael Rispoli, Jason Butler Harner, Brian Haley, and Aunjanue Ellis.

Directed by: Tony Scott

The Taking of Pelham 123, this reincarnation of the original 1974 film directed by Tony Scott, kicks off on the right foot during the beginning and middle parts but then falls apart due to some of the worst script decisions imaginable.

Here’s the original if you’re interested (probably better executed than the remake):

I guess this film review will show you how NOT to make a movie. Sometimes it’s worth revisiting the “classics” (the bad kind) to learn how to make a good film.

Denzel Washington plays the heroic MTA dispatch operator this time around while John Travolta plays the lead baddie in charge of the train hijacking.

Both Denzel Washington and John Travolta deliver top notch performances for what they are given to work with although Travolta sometimes feels a bit too generic and boarders a little on the loud side.

Don’t get me wrong, screaming villains are fine but this sounds like something that was written for Samuel L. Jackson (now I’m starting to get flashbacks of The Negotiator). It seems like John Travolta gets typecast a lot for these type of roles (Battlefield Earth and Swordfish to name a couple) with the exception of Face/Off.

James Gandolfini does an excellent job of portraying the Mayor of New York City, it’s nice to see how talented this guy is when he’s not in the shoes of Tony Soprano, Gandolfini delivers one of the best performances in the film.

Both the passengers and Travolta’s four man crew of hijackers almost get little to no attention nor detail whatsoever outside of the fact they are all generic stereotypes. Luis Guzman, the motorman hijacker, is one very small exception though but the other two guys are easily forgettable.

Tony Scott delivers his usual thrill-filled package here as always, I guess the one thing missing from a Tony Scott action flick is a script written by Shane Black (The Last Boy Scout bringing back any memories here?).

I say that because the current script’s built-in ticking clock plot device falls to pieces in the final act due to a poor cop-out of a climatic showdown.

Instead of coming up with something unique, new, and unconventional like in the original film, we get a cheap Hollywood type of ending that is filled with cliches. Like a typical Michael Bay film, it relies on fancy cinema cameras to capture tantalizing visuals….

…. at the expense of compelling screenwriting.

The ending almost feels like it was rushed, no challenge whatsoever. I’d prefer the ending scene with the motorman hijacker’s apartment from the original as opposed to the nonsense we get on the Manhattan Bridge in this remake.

If it weren’t for it’s poor handling of the other three hijackers and the hostages, and not to mention the lazily-written ending, this would have probably qualified as one of the better remakes out there. Protection Status