Saturday, June 13, 2009

Not the train wreck I was expecting

I had not planned on watching The Taking of Pelham 123, but my mom was bored and wanted to watch SOMEthing, and since I did not really want to be dragged to Night at the Museum 2, I accompanied her to see Pelham. And now I am reviewing a film I had not even intended to watch, not so much because it's a great action/suspense flick (it doesn't suck either), but because at some point during the movie I was reminded that Denzel Washington and John Travolta really are fine actors.

Denzel plays Walter Garber, a New York subway dispatcher who becomes involved in negotiating a hostage situation when one of the trains on his watch is hijacked by a group of men led by one Ryder, played by Travolta. The plot follows the route of the standard Hollywood hostage-taking, and there's really nothing particularly memorable about the story. Director Tony Scott throws in some gratuitous vehicular collisions to get the audience's pulse racing, but the pointlessness of it all is actually acknowledged in the script itself when the mayor (played by an uncomfortable-looking James Gandolfini) demands to know why they didn't just use a helicopter to deliver the ransom money. Everything is predictable, but reasonably plausible, so there's enough to keep the viewers mildly entertained, but not on the edge of their seats.

Luckily, Denzel and Travolta earn their combined more-than-4-times-the-amount-of-the-ransom paychecks by delivering solid performances as protagonist and antagonist, respectively. Over the years I have developed a real affection and respect for Travolta, and I think he doesn't get adequate credit for his range as an actor. I like him best in roles that let him shake his booty, but a close second is when he plays the bad guy (in Face/Off I much preferred him as Castor Troy-trapped-in-Archer's-body). In Pelham, he is just the right combination of menacing, murderous, and maniacal, and one can sense that Travolta relished portraying such a villain.

But whereas I have come to love Travolta, my appreciation of Denzel's acting abilities has waned over time. I find he tends to speak in the exact same way in almost all his roles: in an emphatic drawl (an oxymoron, I know) flavored with that distinct brand of Denzel cockiness. However in Pelham, he gives a very controlled performance as the cool and collected Garber. The one pivotal scene he could have very easily overacted (a verbal showdown via radio with Travolta) was handled with all the restraint and finesse of a veteran thespian, and in effect made that moment the most tense and dramatic of the whole movie.

The Taking of Pelham 123 offers little suspense and no surprises, but at least it allows 2 good actors to take the wheel and drive. And with talent like that, there's no way a movie-- weak plot and action cliches and all-- can crash.


Post a Comment

<< Home