DIRECTOR: Tony ScottIt takes $100 million to tell a story about two men talking to each other via telephone? In Tony Scott's hands it does. The original 1974 cult favourite achieved better results with a budget that probably paid for John Travolta's lunch in this '09 remake (his fee was $20m!) The Taking Of Pelham 123 (hereafter Pelham 123) is a functional heist thriller, where New York subway dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) finds himself in the role of negotiator when Ryder (Travolta), the crackpot leader of a gang who've hijacked the titular "Pelham 123" train, calls him to demand $10 million within an hour, or he'll execute a passenger every minute past the deadline...
WRITER: Brian Helgeland (based on the novel by Morton Freedgood)
CAST: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, Luis Guzman, James Gandolfini & Jason Butler Harner
RUNNING TIME: 106 mins. BUDGET: $100m
It's a simple, effective setup for what should be a tense battle of wits between the two leads, who it's revealed have more in common than you might initially think, thanks to a bribery scandal Garber's currently embroiled in at work. Washington's inherently magnetic on-screen, even when he's just trotting out his humble, "average joe with a wife at home" persona. Travolta meanwhile gets to play a crazed Catholic with an "evil goatee", spewing unintentionally funny lines like "lick my bunghole, motherfucker!" Both actors do what's required of these archetypal roles, but little more.
The blame for Pelham 123's flimsiness lies solely at the director's feet, as Tony Scott once again over eggs the pudding with too much glossy polish and intermittent explosions than the story needs. There's a laughable sequence where a motorcade transporting Ryder's millions across the Big Apple become embroiled in various traffic accidents, that exists purely so Scott can flip some cars because he's grown bored of trying to tease tension from a phone call. What's particularly dispiriting is that Scott was capable of making audiences feel anxious pressure in tight confines (see: Crimson Tide), but his recent career has seen him deluge his movies with a visual schizophrenia that works against the intentions of most scripts he embellishes. The nadir was his frankly unwatchable bounty hunter "biopic" Domino, and while Pelham 123 isn't anywhere near as bad as that turkey because it has a stronger spine running through everything, it's similarly wearisome at times.
Overall, there's a baseline hum of entertainment to be had from Pelham 123 '09, as the basic gist of the original storyline still has its appeal and both Washington and Travolta attack the script with enough passion to keep your interest, but it's Scott and his attention-seeking camera who ruins any chance the film had of growing beyond the disposable, resolutely average timewaster he carved out.
Picture (2.39:1 / 1080P / AVC/H.264/MPEG4) A fantastic transfer that looked totally clean and vibrant to me, with intentional grain and subdued colours. The blacks were very deep and detail was incredibly sharp, with only a few very brief moments when the picture blurs because of fast camera moves. But generally very difficult to fault in any meaningful way.
Sound (English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Audio Descriptive DD5.1, German DTS-HD MA 5.1, Italian DTS-HD MA 5.1) A really great sound mix with strong dynamic range and an encompassing feel most of the time, with strong bass and sharp sounds for gunshots. Dialogue is handled very well, sounding balanced and clear throughout, and the action sequences are well handled.
Audio Commentaries: The first yakker is a solo effort from director Tony Scott, who gives some explanation of the differences between his remake and the original move, as well as providing the usual anecdotes about working with real-life personnel (of the New York subway) and suchlike. The second commentary is a dual effort from writer Brian Helgeland and producer Todd Black, which covers pretty much the same kind of things.
No Time To Lose: The Making of Pelham 123 (HD, 30 mins.) This is actually a pretty decent featurette that covers how the movie was made, in a relatively entertaining way that fils the half hour quite nicely.
The Third Rail: New York Underground (HD, 16 mins.) Interesting piece about how the cast and crew of the movie had to undergo a safety course because they were going to be working underground, that's most amusing when it's revealed how director Scott failed to pass.
From The Top Down: Stylizing Character (SD, 5 mins.) Absolutely ridiculous and pointless extra feature about the hairstyling in the movie, presented by Danny Moumdjian. Avoid.
Marketing Pelham (HD, 7 mins.) If you like watching trailers for the movie you've just seen, you should enjoy this.
Extras: The disc also comes with the increasingly prevalent CineChat feature (where you can instant message people who are also watching the movie -- but does anyone do that?), MovieIQ (where you can access constantly updated info/trivia on the movie in real-time -- sounds cool, but would anyone use this?), and BD Live (where you can access exclusive online content -- but it's hard to imagine anyone being so interested in this movie to care.)