The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 has enough story implausibilities that in the hands of lesser actors, it would be an intellectually, irritating movie. The idea of an everyday Joe suddenly summoning the courage to grab a gun and go after a homicidal mastermind that has shown repeatedly that he has no respect for the sanctity of life is usually the stuff of B-movie summer fare that will eventually be a bargain basement bin inhabitant.
However, the plot is not entirely ridiculous, and viewers can't go completely wrong with the adversarial pairing of beleaguered good guy Denzel Washington and ruthless bad guy John Travolta. Imperfect, yet riveting enough, the film justifies the cost of the multiplex ticket.
The film from the late John Godey novel is a remake of the 1974 film in which the late Walter Matthau stars as a grumpy NYC Transit Authority policeman who has to unravel and foil a subway hostage situation. While sticking with the basic, subway-kidnapper plot, the 2009 version's screenwriter changes the crime-stopping protagonist from a transit cop to a subway dispatcher who becomes the pivotal pawn in the ransom plan - which inflation has increased from the 1974 film's $1 million to $10 million.
As demoted subway dispatcher Walter Garber, Washington plays a character who is at once the reluntant, man-of-the-hour, regular, everyday guy and troubled employee who appears to be on his way out due to his own executive corruption that is under investigation.
His day coordinating the subways around New York City takes an ominous turn when the criminal mastermind (Travolta), a bad dude named Ryder with greedy financial motives, boards the Pelham 123 train with his posse to take the railcar and its riders for the $10 million ransom. Things get more interesting for the dispatcher when Ryder refuses to deal with the police negotiator and demands to communicate only through Garber.
Ryder's commitment to the crime is expressed to the police and the subway officials by the Pelham riders that are killed in the process. Travolta thrives on such a role, and his character interplay with Washington - largely by subway radio - highlights a fascinating acting chemistry between the two actors.
Supporting actors, John Turturro, the dissed police negotiator, and Luis Guzmán, as a disgruntled subway operator, give adequate performances that advance the plot. However, the casting of James Gandolfini as the city's mayor is a bit laughable. In Chicago, it may be a bit more believable given the Windy City's recent mayoral scandal, but not in the Big Apple. His character's no-brainer decision to agree to the ransom without a second thought is one of the story's major unbelievable elements that threatens to relegate the film to a brainless action diversion.
But its plot flaws notwithstanding, the pacing and the standard acting excellence of Washington and Travolta make it a riveting flick that will make most folks forgive the dissatisfying plot elements. Ironically, it is as if the plot is connecting with Spike Lee's Inside Man, as if to show how Washington's character became a police negotiator in that 2006 movie.
The 95-minute film is rated R for violence and pervasive language.