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“1 2 3 ACTION!”

“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” is a remake that is a modernized version of the original with enough of a twist to make it brand new. Just for grins I watched the original version from 1974 which starred Walter Matthau and Jerry Stiller. I wanted to see how the two lined up. I have to admit that the acting was certainly better in the new version though there is always something stylish about 70’s New York. The basic plot is the same but Director Tony Scott’s allows enough changes to the roles to make it more intriguing.

In this version Garber (Denzel Washington) is not a police lieutenant but rather a subway train dispatcher. When the 1:23 train from Pelham is hijacked and its passengers held for ransom life expectancy becomes a race against the clock. The hijackers, led by a man called Ryder (John Travolta), want money and they want it fast. When the hostage team tries to step in Ryder makes it clear that he only wants to deal with Garber, placing this working stiff in a tough situation. Unlike the 70’s version this one weaves in current technology and upgraded motives to create a pretty decent thrill ride.

I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. I knew the caliber of acting would not be an issue since both Travolta and Washington have the chops to pull off their respective roles. John is always an intense bad guy with a cold hard stare and underlying angst. He can go from calm and cool to explosive anger in moments while always seeming in control. Perfect balance to Washington’s easy demeanor. Garber is a man in a situation that no one can prepare for. He handles it like most of us would. With doubt, confusion and at times a humoristic feel. Granted this is a Hollywood film and he does go a bit beyond the norm of what we mere mortals would be asked or capable of doing. But it works on film and doesn’t cheese things up at all.

My main concern was the story line and how this modern version would handle certain threads. But it succeeded by not overdoing any one element but creating a good balance of strong dialogue, fast action sequences and moments of intensity. There are three parallel universes happening at once. You have the dispatch office, the subway train and the streets of New York. Each has its own motive and tension. Scott moves to each one nicely to keep the pace. At 106 minutes it moves nicely and never once bogged down. Also the strong supporting cast (Luis Guzmán, John Turturro and James Gandolfini) each get their moments to shine.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is rated R for violence and pervasive language. It is an adult thriller and not intended for those under 17. The gun play is ferocious and doesn’t pan away. So be a good parent and get a baby sitter, drop them to see something suitable or just stay at home. But adult fans of terrific acting and onscreen thrillers will enjoy this one quite a bit. Travolta and Washington are the perfect pairing and do not disappoint. I give it 4 out of 5 cutter keys. Plus after seeing the original I can assure you that the ending is not spoiled as Scott gives his own new twist to this one. So says Matt Mungle

Matt Mungle (matt@mungleshow.com) (6/08/09)

(4 out of 5)

Review copyright 2009 Mungleshow Productions. Used by Permission.

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