How do you make telephone exchanges and public transport look exciting?
Director Joseph Sargent managed fairly well in 1974’s original Pelham, teasing hard-edged, low-key drama from an improbable situation: the macho brinksmanship between disgruntled transport cop Walter Matthau and subway hijacker Robert Shaw.
Director Tony Scott clearly thinks he can do better, by remaking the film in the style of an all-action car advert. Problem is, it’s not really an action narrative, but that doesn’t stop Scott: choppy edits, smash-cuts, vehicle crashes, generic urban music cues and hysterical panto villains removing the slow-burn tension the otherwise simple story requires.
Deeper problems lie beneath: Brian Helgeland’s half-baked script gives baddie John Travolta too many excuses to ham and gurn (“Lick my bunghole, motherfucker!” indeed). Worse, there’s no chilling logic behind his mania – he’s just 100 per cent demented.
At least Denzel Washington gets in some decent underplaying as the deskbound drone taking Trav’s calls before an ill-advised third-act conversion to gunplay heroics.
Scott can do intelligent action (Crimson Tide, True Romance), but he clumsily misreads his material here. As he admits in a hesitant commentary, “It’s a movie about two guys sitting on the end of a phone.”
He would have done well to respect that for this rowdy but toothless retread.
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