In the annals of unnecessary remakes, few have felt more pointless than ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’. John Godey’s grimy dimestore novel was originally adapted for the big screen back in 1974, resulting in a taut thriller notable for inspiring Tarantino to create his colour-coded criminals in ‘Reservoir Dogs’. There’s no Mr Blue or Mr Green in Tony Scott’s remake – and it’s hard to imagine it inspiring anyone to do anything.
It starts well enough, as John Travolta’s burly, porn-moustachioed ex-con Ryder and his gang of thinly characterised crims take over a New York subway train and hold the passengers at gunpoint. Cue Denzel Washington’s Garber, an out-of-his-depth desk jockey with a sketchy moral history and a rapport with the bad guys. Let the verbal sparring commence!
The film’s mid-section, in which these two fine actors chew manfully through Brian Helgeland’s dialogue despite repeated interruption from James Gandolfini’s portly Mayor and Scott’s zipline shakycam histrionics, just about holds the attention. There are nice turns from John Turturro as a twitchy hostage negotiator and Luis Guzman as a squirrelly crook. But it all collapses in the final act, eschewing tension in favour of a series of dimly lit tunnel-bound shootouts. ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’ is not a bad film: it’s ponderous and shallow, but always watchable. But what it crucially fails to do, especially in the light of its illustrious predecessor, is justify its own existence.