Can’t Hollywood Come Up With Any New Ideas?

Isiah Reyes

Picture a group of hijackers who take control of a mass transit subway train in New York City and demand $10 million in ransom money to be paid within the next 60 minutes. One passenger will be killed for every minute that passes the deadline.

Ever wondered what would happen if this scenario played out?

Then hop aboard “The Taking of Pelham 123,” directed by Tony Scott (“DéjÖ Vu,” 2006), where this exact scenario takes place. The film is based on the 1973 novel by John Godey, which was later made into a 1974 film and again remade into a 1998 TV movie.

The man in charge of this daunting scheme is the angry, stop-at-nothing Ryder (John Travolta, “Pulp Fiction,” 1994), whose motive for terrorizing the underground depths of the subway system are unclear early on.

After he and his henchmen take control of the train, he gets in contact with MTA dispatcher, Walter Garber (Denzel Washington, “American Gangster,” 2007) who has no idea the long, grueling day ahead of him.

The two of them get familiar with each other over the dispatch amidst the chaotic dispersion of the SWAT team and the panicking screams of the hostages.

Ryder, the madman who has some sort of connection to the stock market, has a peculiar interest in speaking only with Garber, who is currently under investigation for bribery.

As the tension escalates, NYPD Emergency Service Unit Lt. Camonetti (John Turturro, “Transformers,” 2007) steps in as the hostage negotiator. This upsets Ryder to a great degree as he only wishes to speak to Garber, and in response, he shoots and kills the train operator. Now the police know the level of craziness they’re dealing with.

The mayor (James Gandolfini, “All the King’s Men,” 2006) then steps in to resolve matters, but doesn’t get too far as it seems as if Ryder has a personal gripe with the mayor, stemming from the not-so-distant past.

The movie continues to be intense throughout, with scenes of speeding cars, a train charging at full speed and a shoot-out between the hijackers and police.

It is also captivating to find out what Ryder’s motives are in the first place and to see how he plans to escape from underneath the city.

The acting on Travolta’s part as a wild terrorist is not really all that believable. He comes off more as a bullying schoolyard character who keeps punking little kids for money (in this case, $10 million). It’s also laughable at how hard he tries to come off as a tough guy. Dropping the f-bomb 100 times doesn’t make you scary, Travolta.

On the other hand, Washington, playing the part of a level-headed good guy, is pretty convincing. But hasn’t he played this part before, like in almost every one of his movies?

At least it’s better having an actor doing what he does do best. Maybe there should’ve been a scene enabling Travolta to let loose on the train tracks to bust out some of his “Saturday Night Fever” boogie-dance tricks.

As for the goal of the movie, it accomplishes exactly it sets out to do: being a summer action flick. Expecting a deep, moving story in addition to the car crashes and firing guns will bring about disappointment.

Another reason to check out this film is to listen to the banter between the two stars, as most of the time they trade puns over the dispatch, which are quite entertaining.

Once the movie is done, and everything gets resolved, it doesn’t leave the viewer with much to talk about. Its like, “Oh okay, it finished. So what’s for dinner?”

Overall, it’s good movie to watch for kicks, but there are many better ones out there. The action in here is intense, the acting is sub-par and the story is believable – if you believe that outrageous situations can occur as easily as they do in the film.

“The Taking of Pelham 123” is rated R for violence and pervasive language. Distributed by Columbia Pictures, the runtime is 121 minutes.

My rating is 3 out of 5 stars.