The Taking of Pelham 123: Not as Good as the Original

By Ed Koch

This remake of the 1974 film provides an adequate evening of entertainment, but it is not as exciting or memorable as the original version. Those who saw the first movie and are expecting a blockbuster will be disappointed.

When the first film was released, Abe Beame was the mayor of New York City. The city was approaching the abyss of bankruptcy and its citizens, appalled by the dangers of subway crimes, were turning to city buses for their commute to work. The graffiti-covered subway cars at the time added to the fear of being trapped in a cramped, tunneled space. No fear of riding in the subway labyrinth exists in the current film.

For all the mayhem in the picture, it contains no intense suspense. While I don't remember every detail of the original version released 35 years go, I do recall that it was a very exciting and suspenseful film.

The same drama exists between two principal figures. Ryder (John Travolta), leader of the group that has taken the subway hostages, is demanding a $10 million ransom from the city. The mayor (James Gandolfini) authorizes the payment to prevent Ryder from killing any more passengers. Ryder demonstrates his willingness to kill when the police, represented by hostage negotiator Camonetti (John Turturro), doesn't respond quickly enough to his demands. Ryder prefers dealing with Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) a former high-ranking MTA official accused of bribery. While awaiting his trial, Garber has been demoted to the position of subway dispatcher.

I did not bond with any of the characters and, therefore, felt no involvement. Of all the actors in the picture, Denzel Washington is the most believable. Turturro is much too bland and without nuance, Gandolfini is adequate but not towering, and Travolta is over the top.

A long scene of police cars transporting the ransom from Brooklyn to the hostage car at Grand Central is nowhere near as exciting or memorable as scenes in other films, e.g., the car chase in The French Connection. One scene involving Turturro and Washington taking a helicopter from Wall Street to Grand Central is ridiculous. They depart the MTA headquarters on Madison Avenue, go down to the Wall Street heliport and chopper back to Grand Central Station. They could have walked the few blocks from the headquarters to Grand Central.

With so many dreary films out there, this one is a welcome relief, but it did not have the impact I had hoped for. The original film was far superior and will be remembered in years to come while the current remake will soon be forgotten.

H.S. (my moviegoing companion) said: "I have become a fan of the subways over the last seven years. I ride the 6 train that the killers attacked. I hope it never happens again (the event seems to recur every 35 years) but if it does, I hope Denzel Washington is around.

"The movie was flashy, splashy and colorful; decent summer entertainment in an air-conditioned theater. Did it rise to greatness? No. They ought to bring back the 1974 movie so people can compare the technology and the human interaction. The subway fare in 1974 was 35 cents. First run movies were $2.50. I wonder what the 2044 remake will be like."

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2009/06/the-taking-of-pelham-123-not-as-good-as-the-original/19429/