Friday, June 19, 2009
The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three had every flaw I read it did and then some. Tony Scott fills the film with blurry second-unit footage, time-displaying text (familiar from the five grating minutes I caught of his Spy Game) and wanton, sudden zoom-ins. Badass isn't derived from the New York setting, it's smeared on the screen in post. John Travolta's performance is more petulant than menacing ("lick my bunghole?" really?) and the plot is nonsensical. (If you were going to manufacture and exploit a stock market plummet by hijacking a subway car - questionable enough - would you hold the gun yourself? Wouldn't you watch from some faraway island and let professionals take care of the dirty work?) Worthlessly busier than the workmanlike original or the '98 TV remake with Edward James Olmos I can't believe I've actually seen, Pelham is very much the audience-insulting piece of shit critics have advertised.
But I didn't hate it. Scott's usual grotesquerie is reined in by the PG-13 rating (edit: turns out it's rated R, and after Drag Me To Hell I'm genuinely surprised - unless shooting deaths are flat-out verboten it must be over Travolta's language), and simple caper movies can take a lot of abuse. The cast helps, too; though Denzel Washington, James Gandolfini and John Turturro fail to make fully-formed characters out of their roles, the script gives them just enough room to show some of their natural charm and avoid the shrill cartoons or CSI-style sleepwalking this kind of story invites. Travolta even gets dangerously close to his old charisma with a colorful anecdote about watching a dog crap in Iceland (seriously, that's his highlight). I can't recommend the movie to anyone, but I can't rail against it. Shit usually smells worse and I walked away clean.
Side note: has Travolta had it together for a movie since Battlefield Earth? I remember him being somewhat likable (for what it was worth) in Domestic Disturbance, but I haven't seen anything else he's done this decade. His career has gone in waves, but he may be beyond the pale.