Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 24
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

I’M IN CHARGE NOW, SO DO AS I SAY OR I’LL KILL THE HOSTAGES: Ryder (John Travolta, center) and one of his henchman Green (Luis Guzman, right) have hijacked a New York City subway train and are threatening to kill their hostages in one hour unless a $10 million ransom is paid in one hour’s time. They are shown here in the control car of the train making sure that the engineer (Gary Basaraba) doesn’t upset their plans.

The Taking of Pelham 123: Denzel and Travolta Co-Star in Remake of Hostage Drama

Kam Williams

John Godey’s best selling novel, The Taking of Pelham 123, describes four armed crooks who hijack a New York City subway train and threaten to start killing passengers one at a time if their ransom demands are not met within an hour. Beyond that basic outline however, each director who takes on the project changes the plot however he sees fit.

In 1974 the first screen adaptation starred the late Walter Matthau as Police Lieutenant Zachary Garber. When Garber cracked the case, the gang’s ringleader, Bernard “Blue” Ryder, promptly committed suicide. The 1998, made-for-TV version had a different ending, and the hero had a another name and was only a detective. Plus, Blue and his cohorts were now seeking $5 million — instead of $1 million — in return for the release of their prisoners.

By 2009, the protagonist has his name back, but he’s now black and is not even a cop. Instead, Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is a disgraced subway dispatcher with a checkered past. It falls upon him to match wits with Ryder (John Travolta), a diabolical misanthrope who wants $10 million for the release of the hostages. Ryder takes a liking to Garber and won’t deal with anyone else. To prove that he’ll have no part of the official police negotiator (John Turturro), he executes the train’s engineer (Gary Basaraba) when the police hesitate to put Walter back on the phone.

Ryder’s partners include Messrs. Green (Luis Guzman), Brown (Robert Vataj), and Grey (Vicytor Gojcaj). In the other corner, the good guys are led by the outgoing Mayor (James Gandolfini) and the Police Commissioner (Frank Wood).

In the book, the villain was crafty and calculating, however, Travolta portrays his character as an unpredictable maniac likely to kill for the slightest reason.

That scary intensity is further amplified by director Tony Scott (Déjà Vu) who subjects the audience to a pounding soundtrack and dizzying cinematic tricks instead of weaving a credible cat-and-mouse story. As a consequence, the movie is more like watching a music video or playing a computer game than having the audience try to unravel a psychological thriller.

Nonetheless, Washington and Travolta prove to be worthy adversaries. So, the roller coaster ride they take you on is as riveting as it is — upon closer inspection — ridiculous. A high octane adventure you’ll forget as you’re leaving the theater.

Very Good (3 stars). Rated R for violence, ethnic slurs, and pervasive profanity. Running time: 106 minutes. Studio: Columbia Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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