If you were to look up "cliché" in the dictionary, there would be a picture of a review that uses "if you were to look up _____ in the dictionary." But if you were to look up "anticlimax" in the dictionary, there might just be a picture of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.
First off, I'm a ravenous junkie for hostage thrillers. Die Hard is the über-example, a genuinely perfect action thriller and one the best movies ever made, but I also really enjoy Speed, Air Force One, The Negotiator, the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and pretty much anything else with armed gunmen holding innocent bystanders for ransom. If it's got hostages, I'm there, devouring it like so much candy.
Ergo I was pretty entertained by the first ninety minutes or so of this remake, despite director Tony Scott's typically nonsensical orgy of flash cuts and shaking picture and warped images and freeze frames. Carried over from the original film is the dark, claustrophobic setting of New York City's subway tunnels and the relentless ticking clock of one hour until hostages start dying, and the first two acts have a lightning pace and couple bloody deaths that never allow any impatience or boredom to creep in.
In contrast to the cold, collected, and unflappable Robert Shaw as the bad guy in the original, John Travolta plays the hostage taker with borderline-bizarre explosive energy, screaming and swearing and waving his gun around like he knows perfectly well he's an action movie villain and he wants to have a blast with it. Denzel Washington is that rare actor who's engaging as monster or shlub or anything in between, and while he's good as the hero I admit I prefer him in Training Day badass mode and think he might have been better as the villain. Not to mention that all of his scenes with his wife are hopelessly overwrought; if you can make it through her seven-second appearance in the trailer (1:53 - 2:00) without rolling your eyes I'll give you a dollar.
But the movie's real problem is a final act that has no idea where to go. I'm gonna go ahead and spoil some of the so-called "climax," so don't read ahead if you still have a burning desire to see the movie: after John Travolta and the surviving hijackers leave the tunnels with the money, they split up, and upon exiting to the street the other hijackers are immediately, and I mean immediately surrounded by cops. We spend ninety minutes watching these guys hijack a subway under the assumption that their genius plan has an equally genius escape route, but no. They leave the tunnel, cops get them in five seconds, and your balls are left extremely blue.
Then Travolta and the good guys have a car chase through the streets of the city that isn't just exactly like a hundred identical scenes in film, it's like a hundred identical scenes in film this year. So I don't know - the movie certainly has its entertaining bits and if you like thrillers as much as me you might get something out of it, but it just doesn't end very satisfyingly at all. I wouldn't really recommend sleeping with a marginally attractive girl if her one rule is that you aren't allowed to nut, and this is basically the cinematic equivalent of that.
2 Stars out of 5