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Wednesday, June 10, 2009 09:14 am

Pelham jumps the tracks

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There are quite a few reasons to recommend Tony Scott’s The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. It features a great performance from Denzel Washington as well as John Travolta’s best work since Pulp Fiction. It’s suspenseful, contains some great dialogue and is a genuinely entertaining movie. Unfortunately, all of these elements are undercut by the film’s third act. Thanks to Scott’s ham-fisted approach and some unrealistic narrative leaps from screenwriter Brian Helgeland, you’ll be left wondering how a film that was moving at such a brisk clip could so suddenly jump the tracks.

Washington is Walter Garber, an administrator in the New York transit system who’s been temporarily demoted because he’s under investigation for taking bribes. As fate would have it, he’s in charge of the Pelham line when a small group of men take one of the trains on that route and hold it and all aboard hostage. Led by the psychotic Ryder (Travolta), these men show early on they mean business as they have no problem killing to get what they want.

The chemistry between the two stars is a wonder to behold. They parry back and forth, suffusing their conversations with humor and intimacy, creating a human bond that sucks us in immediately. Watch Washington as he makes a painful confession or Travolta as he gives vent to his simmering anger and you’ll see some of the finest film acting of the year.

Too bad their efforts are undercut by Scott, who distracts us with needless visual gimmickry and Helgeland who relies on incredible circumstances more than once in the film’s final half hour. The bottom line is this — if you’re fans of Washington and Travolta, catch Pelham, sit back, and watch them put on a clinic where screen acting is concerned. Just be prepared to have your intelligence insulted in the last half hour.

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