THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 is based on the book of the same name that also spawned a film from the mid 70’s starring Walter Matthau and a television movie starring Edward James Olmos. So at least you know that the source material is pretty solid going into this.
The premise is simple: John Travolta takes a New York subway train full of passengers hostage and asks for $10,000,000 to be delivered in one hour. For every minute that the money is late, a hostage will be shot. Denzel Washington works for the Transit Authority and is the only one that Travolta trusts to make sure that his demands are met.
The film starts off with great promise, right as the heist is going down. We don’t have to suffer through the plotting and planning to get there. Unfortunately, it’s the hour that Travolta is waiting for the money that the audience has to sit through in almost real-time before the film gets done with its basic exposition and starts into the high-impact action sequences which we’ve been waiting to see. The wait is worth it, because once the film hits that part of the plot, it really takes off and carries you through to an ending that wraps up nicely.
Travolta owns the screen whenever he’s on camera; Washington repeats in his niche of playing the “everyman” character that the audience can root for and sympathize with. And James Gandolfini has all the unintentionally funny lines – if only because of the contrast of seeing Tony Soprano playing mayor of New York.
If you’re a fan of the original film, you’ll like the way this version sticks to the main plot points while using an updated setting. Luckily, the subway hasn’t changed that much between the 1970’s and today. And if you like heist/hostage films like Dog Day Afternoon, you’ll feel comfortable sitting through this Pelham adaption.