I just saw The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 remake at a cut rate, neighbourhood theatre so I could better understand the inevitable sequel, The Putting Back of Pelham 1-2-3 Right Where It Belongs, and to compare it with the 1974 original, which spelled out the numbers in the title because audiences had longer attention spans back then.
The original, done in the pit of New-York-as-Hell era of filmmaking, was a crackling film packed with sturdy performances: Walter Matthau as the Bassett Hound subway dispatcher who deals with the hijackers; Robert Shaw as a steely-nerved soldier of fortune; Lee Wallace as a whiny, flu-plagued Mayor Ed Koch. But the real star was New York: Grim, shabby, broken, peeling. It looked like it smelled of uncollected garbage and bum’s socks.
Yet the movie was great. Everyone loves a crisp heist-and-caper flick, especially when you don’t know how the crooks will escape – or get caught. Add seasoned actors who knew how to inhabit a role and a director who lets the story tell the story instead of some jacked-up FX computer monkey doing it in the edit suite, and you had a superb, edgy film.
The remake is noisy, hyperactive, bright and incessantly vulgar.
We know the bad guy is bad ‘cause he shouts “Fucker!” often and “Motherfucker!” even more frequently. No, hold on; the good guys say that, too. Well, the bad guy is bad because he’s an unhinged killer with a gripe, which is much more theatrical than Robert Shaw’s deadly menace. With John Travolta, you know you’re getting the former heart-throb, greased-up dance master, in his “I love being bad” persona first displayed in Pulp Fiction . After only a few scenes, we look forward to his death. You wanted Robert Shaw to get caught; you want Travolta to get shoved under a train.
But that’s just part of the horror. Tony Scott is a hyperactive director who cannot hold a shot anymore than a frat boy can hold liquor; his enthusiasm sloshes and staggers and gets the spins, hurls left and right and up and down, and bears no resemblance to reality.
It exhausts, it annoys. It seems afraid to do anything else. By comparison, Transformers is The Sorrow and the Pity.
I just curled up in a ball and waited for the punches to stop.