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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is Your Mediocre Summer Movie

Published June 11, 2009 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Columbia Pictures
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 Poster The Taking of Pelham 123
I thought The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 looked like Inside Man vs Swordfish. I turned out to be right. It’s Denzel Washington at his most standard and John Travolta at his campiest in a completely mediocre summer filler movie.

Review: The Taking of Pelham 123


It goes through all the technical motions, setting stuff up in the beginning for later. It’s a passable hostage thriller in that you’ll follow it through to the end, but completely unmemorable. I mean, hostages in a train and a deadline for money? That’s not even a logline, it’s an episode of Fox’s short-lived Standoff. Sure, in the original, just renting a train was a big production value, but now it’s no big whoop.

There’s some character drama, something happened to them in the past that makes this situation ironic, although now we just Google for backstory exposition. Thank you, technology.

They have to keep reminding us how many minutes are left before the deadline because there’s no real suspense. It’s just the procedure of getting a play together and making it. The drive across down had some cool obstacles but they keep cutting back to talking. Nothing is awesome, so what’s the point?



One particularly annoying thing is the pseudo “real” dialogue. Everyone stammers, repeats things, overlaps because real people don’t have the exact right thing to say all the time with a pithy one-liner. Come on, it’s a movie. We know the drill of hostage negotiation.

John Travolta cannot say MF. I’m a bit of an MF connoisseur at this point. Samuel L. Jackson is of course the Dom Perignon of MF. Morgan Freeman would be a Mumm Napa but Travolta is a Two Buck Chuck. It’s a skill and Travolta just doesn’t use it at the right moments or with the right intonation. Loved him in Face/Off though.

There’s a little bit of humor in the male banter, though no quotable Denzel lines. There are phone calls home to add some emotion to the stakes, but not really. My only original thought about the hostage crisis was that perhaps this is what happened to Danny Zuko 30 years after graduating Rydell.
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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Columbia Pictures
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