The upcoming film The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 does not have the most revealing of titles on the surface. But beneath the surface, we find that this is about a New York subway train that gets hijacked and along with its multitude of passengers held for ransom (can I get a “Gimme back my son!”). Once the authorities find out about the jacking, they predictably swoop in to try and stop them. It’s based on the 1973 book of the same name (with the exception of “One Two Three” spelled out) by now deceased novelist Morton Freedgood aka John Godey (his pen name). This one is another sterling example of Hollywood going the remake route, dipping their creative little fingers thrice into the same pot. Pelham was made into a feature film in 1974 and a TV movie back in 1998. The original film was loved by fans (7.7 IMDB) but the TV version (4.9), was met with more of a yawning indifference.
Pelham stars 2-time Oscar Winner Denzel Washington, who is generally regarded as one of the finest actor’s of our generation. Breitling watch pitchman John Travolta co-pilots, playing a sinister baddie named Ryder, the leader of the hijackers. This time around, it’s directed by reliable action auteur Tony Scott (True Romance). If his name sounds familiar but you can’t quite place it, he is the younger brother of more well-known director sibling, Ridley Scott (Gladiator). Tony’s films are most often known for their leads, as is the case with noted couch jumper Tom Cruise in 1986′s Top Gun or a post Gumby-era Eddie Murphy way back when, in Beverly Hills Cop II.
This film marks Scott’s fourth time working with Denzel having previously directed him in 1995′s Crimson Tide ($91mm) along with Gene Hackman and with Denzel as a sole lead in 2004′s Man on Fire ($78mm) and 2006′s Déjà Vu (a more disappointing $64mm vs. $80mm budget). All told, they have a proven track record working together. The fan friendly Washington is a bankable draw at ticket booths, but the vehicle is always important for the Training Day star. His pairing with Travolta, who added some spritz to 2007′s Hairspray, could be critical. With Denzel on the silver screen, for every American Gangster ($130mm domestic) there is a Great Debaters ($30mm). It’s worth noting that both films made money for their respective studios via different channels. While Gangster was a summer hit and touted as a potentially new classic (the black Scarface) in a lot of ways, Debaters was a smaller film that (unsuccessfully) tried to lure the Academy voters during Oscar season.
Travolta on the other hand had his film career on life support at one point, before it was essentially resuscitated by Quentin Tarantino, when he cast him in the modern day classic Pulp Fiction in 1994. We are still seeking a performance from Travolta to rival his excellent Vincent Vega and with each passing film we fear that the Scientologist may never give us another effort quite as good. We’ve seen John in these bad guy roles before. He headlined 2001′s Swordfish, which had the added benefit of Halle Berry showing her rack, but it still lost money domestically. Like in 1996′s actioner Broken Arrow, the fear is that John will give another over the top acting job. In that film, JT delivers many lines in a manner that would make Keanu Reeves proud.
Overall, cinefiles can be on the lookout for a lot here. Will Scott include his trademark pan across a large tower? Will Denzel have to carry this film or can Travolta step up and deliver the nuanced performance we want to see from him? Will the third time be the charm for this film adaptation therefore making it a modern day hit? We won’t have to wait much longer to find out.