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Jun 19, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Tony Scott just doesn't know when to leave well enough alone. The True Romance and Top Gun director has what most would consider to be a successful career, both commercially (especially commercially) and critically (hit and miss, but not reviled like Michael Bay), but the 64-year old director seems to be regressing to his teenage years. 11 and eight years ago, respectively, he gave us Enemy of the State and Spy Game, two espionage thrillers; the first one of the paranoid variety, hearkening back to co-star Gene Hackman's 70s classic The Conversation, and the second a more standard-fare mentor-mentee rescue mission. Both were sharply written with strong casts and twists aplenty. (In fact, I think Spy Game is one of the more underrated movies of the last decade - hint hint, Daniel; it shouldn't win any awards, but it's thoroughly engaging and smart, along the lines of Ronin, which was not coincidentally released the same year as Enemy.) However, good as each was, they each demonstrated a little bit too much affection for, well, I wouldn't even call it action, but for "actioning up" non-action scenes, taking simple tasks such as driving a car or flying a helicopter and "jazzing" them up with camera tricks, special effects and overly loud sound effects.

Fast-forward through Man on Fire, Deja Vu, and Domino to this summer's Pelham and we find that Scott is literally drunk and/or in love with these hacky tricks. He takes what it is an interesting, simple premise (the subway hijacker/subway dispatcher relationship) and tarts it up with so much crap that you can't help but hate him for it. There are plenty of these sequences to dislike, from the oddly edited opening credits montage to the 1080 degree (or more) spin-arounds (I'd be shocked if the camera or editing sat still for more than 3 consecutive seconds), but the biggest culprit is easily a delivery of ransom money from a Federal Reserve bank to the subway station. Scott intercuts this race to get the money there a number of times, and each time, you'd swear that an epileptic was holding the camera with a nearly-deaf guy next to him doing the sound. If you'd like to re-create these scenes yourself, it'd be quite simple: get in your car, tune in to a rock/rap fusion station and crank it as loud as it goes, slam the gas and then shake yourself around violently in your driver's seat until you got into an accident. Mission accomplished.

If Scott were a novice and/or unsuccessful filmmaker, I'd be blaming the studio for wanting to spice up what might have felt "too adult" for a summer popcorn movie; but I can't do that - this is a 40+ year filmmaking veteran who has a number of box office hits under his belt. The blame is all his. And the aggravation all mine.

But not yours, since Pelham has inspired me to do yet another installment of Fletch's Stick Figure Synopsis© (contains a big, kind of obvious SPOILER). Enjoy.

Fletch's Film Rating:


Random Leftover Thoughts:

* It's really not said enough, but John Travolta is really...not a good actor. In Pelham, he's tremendously appealing and likable - he's a fun villain - but the guy is just not believable at being menacing or dangerous. As inferred in the Stick Figures above, I got a sad kick out of the fact that he punctuated just about every one of his lines with "blah blah blah motherf*cker!!" (angrily), as if that made him seem more dangerous or unhinged to the audience. I just kinda thought it made him pathetic.

* Along the same lines...if you know me at all, you know I'm no prude, especially when it comes to language, but the incessant use of the word "f*ck" and its variants was just too much. This is not an "I'm offended by such coarse language!" complaint, it's an "I'm offended by such lazy screenwriting" complaint. Want an example of a movie with excessive F words that worked perfectly? It's called The Big Lebowski.

* The Turturro wave from the helicopter was hilariously awful. On so many levels. The teenager "relationship" is pretty lame, too.

* A small part of me thinks that I will ironically enjoy this tremendously when it hits cable and I watch it 35 times on HBO. That's not a definite, but I'm just warning you (Mrs. Fletch).

10 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3"

Nick said...

The frenetic camera work didn't bother me on the money delivering scene. What bothered me about that scene was its pointless added action with the car crashes.

The movie ITSELF thought it was pointless. One of the characters was like "Why didn't we just use a helicopter?"

And the other was like "OMG LOL PLOTHOLE."

When they finally get a helicopter, they bring it up again.

"About time they do something productive!"

Rick Olson said...

Love the stick-figure synopsis, Fletch. It's an example of why blogs are more vital than print criticism these days.

Fletch said...

Nick - the crashes seemed excessive, but I could understand the point of having at least one in the first place. But why did it have to be a friggin' music video every time there was motion onscreen?

I enjoyed the helicopter line as well. LOL yourself at the "OMG LOL PLOTHOLE." :D

Rick - thanks...I think. That feels like a back-handed compliment if ever there was one...

Tommy Salami said...

Thanks for describing everything wrong with Tony Scott in the last 10 years in a few stick figures.

Clive Dangerously said...

I also thought Travolta's MFery was overdone... I think trimming that down may have gotten them a PG13, and considerably more bank.

Fletch said...

Tommy - my absolute pleasure. :D

Clive - well, they would've have to have trimmed all of them out to get the PG-13 (I think the rule is one F word per PG-13, but context and "type" of F word still come into play.).

Short story long: I agree with you. But maybe I'm glad it didn't make more money - it certainly doesn't deserve to...

Farzan said...

Good review Fletch, my friend saw it on opening weekend and said it was very average. Hes a big Denzel fan so he will see anything that guy is in. I think I might wait for the Blu Ray version and give it a rent.

Reel Whore said...

I see you were fairly unimpressed.

It was entertaining enough, but yeah Travolta's F-bomb punctuations bugged me, too and you know I love me some F-bombs! His opening demands were intense but mostly hospitable until he dropped the big mofo at the end. I was like where the f*ck did that come from!?

Fletch said...

Farzan - good thinking here with Pelham. You're missing nothing by waiting. It might even play better on TV...

Wayne - Don't you mean, you were "like where the motherf*ck!?! did that come from?"

Reel Whore said...

You're motherf*ckin right, Fletch. That's exactly what I motherf*ckin meant! Shoot me! I can't make another motherf*ckin mistake like that again!