The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3 is a case study in why remakes should not be made or seen. The former because of a simple fact; this remake fails to improve upon the original (but how could it!). The latter because it makes anyone who ever considered watching the original – a classic dramatic thriller from the 70's – wonder what made that films so good in the first place.
I can not make my case against this train wreck, pardon the pun, strong without a comparison to the original, for this film exists because of it. In the 1974 version, the opening sucked you in right away. It had a graceful way of setting itself up – very quietly, very ominously, set to David Shire's now legendary score. The men committing the hijacking of a New York subway train were almost all identical, because they wore fake facial hair and referred to themselves as Mr. Green, Grey, Blue or Brown (this marvelous technique of concealing identity from their victims was later paid homage to in Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, which may even be considered a continuation of the events of this film, had it ended slightly differently). But because this is a Tony Scott film, the opening itself is breezy - there is shaky camera work, quick cut editing, colour filters, rapid zooms, onscreen text, and courtesy of inspiration from google maps, railway lines that appear onscreen marked with arrows showing locations, directions and distances. Being the poster child of ADD victims everywhere, Scott, who certainly lacks his brothers technique of using technology to aid his film, also includes written text to let us know the time left before the terrorists will start killing passengers if their demand for ten million dollars is not met – apparently the same information given to us by people speaking is not enough, reiteration of simplistic themes and ideas becomes necessary all throughout the film.
The perpetrators that carry out all the work we see are led by John Travolta in a new low for him. To cite the greatness of the original yet again, the leader of the group then was an anonymous British mercenary. His quick thinking and merciless decisions were lethal. Travolta on the other proudly displays the extreme angst of being treated unfairly by the city by cursing profanity, being mean, psychotic and temperamental. All of this is laughable, like seeing a baby throw a tantrum. His tough guy shtick just doesn't work here. If Scott wanted the real deal, they'd just get Ice Cube, not Travolta's ex-wallstreet yuppie straight out of prison with fancy tattoo marks.
Denzel Washington, who seems to have signed some sort of exclusivity contract with Scott, tries to make his transit officer the voice of reason and concern, but is lost in a setting full of "Noo Yawkers", including hammy James Gondolfini and John Turturro, who project every stereotype known to pop culture about this city. Perhaps the only thing which I found meaningfully better here was the sometimes amusing banter between the two leads (Scott's forte at work), a far cry from the cold, distant, direct conversations in the original, but even this kept pandering to pseudo-psychoanalysis. Where the storyline in the original worked as a chilly reminder of how an ordinary day could believably turn into act of insurrection, the remake tries to cover up its massive narrative and logical shortcomings by pimping it with not one, but two jazzy car chases, both of which are seen as long lasting, rapid blurs on the screen. Scott's Pelham even has his trademark shoot out scene, you know the one he's featured in nearly every film since True Romance where a group of people opposing each other suddenly yank out their guns for no reason and shoot each other dead. Like an idiots guide to New York, the film is too simplistic and incredulous. How do the terrorists hope to escape? With today's technology why can't they try something more effective (hint, Die Hard 4.0…)? But of course, this is a studio remake. The name is supposed to sell opening day tickets. By all means, watch The Taking of Pelham, just make sure it's the original. - Faizan Rashid