Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Video review: "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3"

A better-than-average potboiler, "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" pairs two veteran actors, John Travolta and Denzel Washington, as a psychotic criminal looking to take the Big Apple down a notch and the public servant tasked with foiling him.

What's most interesting about this flick is that director Tony Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland manage to make both the protagonist and antagonist equally charismatic. Ryder (Travolta, in a handlebar mustache and neck tattoo), recently released from prison for embezzlement, wants to make a wad of dough by holding a train full of subway passengers hostage in exchange for $10 million, while teaching an abject lesson in humility.

Garber (Washington) is a Joe Schmoe transit dispatcher who just happens to be the guy who takes Ryder's call, and ends up forming a rapport with the killer. He's competent, forthright, and puts his own neck on the line while the politicians dither, so the audience naturally roots for him.

"Pelham" is a remake of a 1974 film starring Robert Shaw as the heavy and Walter Matthau (!) as Garber. Scott and his cast and crew retain that film's gritty urban vibe while offering a stylish update.

DVD extras are ample and impressive. Washington and Travolta don't do a commentary track, but are well represented in other features. Commentary duties are left to Scott on his own track, and Helgeland and producer Todd Black on the other.

A 30-minute making-of documentary offers plenty of behind-the-scenes insight, including the fact that the guy playing Travolta's loud-mouth henchman was a real-life Albanian mobster.

There's also a 16-minute featurette about the extensive participation of the New York transit system in shutting down subway lines for filming. Also several theatrical trailers, and a 5-minute featurette about Scott working with a hairstylist to get his actors' look just right.

In addition to these extras, the Blu-ray version also comes with a digital copy of the film.

Movie: 3 stars
Extras: 3.5 stars

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