Hollywood – which has plenty of rehab centers for drug and alcohol addiction – needs to open a similar facility for hyperactive movie directors. Call it the Tony Scott Clinic.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Scott’s remake of the 1974 hostage thriller, is another exercise in ADD editing and swooshing camera movements. Even the music on the soundtrack is chopped up into random bits. I didn’t realize Scott was the director going into the screening, but all it took was the opening sequence of New York City rush hour in fast motion to tip me off.
The upshot of all this twitchiness is the opposite of what a good thriller needs. Instead of heightening the tension, Scott’s style is distancing. Nothing is given the chance to register with the audience, to settle, to matter.
And so the effort of transit dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington, reteaming with Scott for the fourth time) to negotiate with a thug who has taken over a subway train is merely one more element for the director to toss into his cinematic blender. There are threats, countdowns and murders – it goes without saying that the picture is ridiculously more violent than the original – yet it all proceeds in such a jumbled barrage of blips you never have a chance to connect with the film as a suspenseful narrative.
As the villain, John Travolta counts as one of the stylized distractions. He barks and giggles and screams, as if creating a memorable nemesis was simply a matter of calling more attention to yourself than anyone else on the screen. Callously murdering a hostage one minute, calmly engaging Washington in a debate about God and fate the next, Travolta can’t decide if he wants to be psychotic, charming or jokey, so he goes for some bizarre combination of the three.
The original Pelham wasn’t a classic by any means, but it at least was a well-crafted genre piece that ended on a clever, “Columbo”-style grace note.
This Pelham, written by Brian Helgeland, ditches that finale for a ludicrous mano a mano climax that almost, almost launches it into good bad movie territory. Except that good bad movies don’t leave you with crunching, Tony Scott-induced headaches.