Just got back from a screening of this, sponsored by Creative Screenwriting magazine. The movie, which borrows the title from the 1974 Walter Matthau-Robert Shaw-starrer (screenwriter Brian Helgeland claims in interviews it’s not really a remake), concerns a hostage situation where gunmen take over a subway train and demand $10 million from the city of New York or else they start shooting passengers. Denzel Washington plays Walter Garber, the Mass Transit Authority employee who takes the ransom call from Travolta’s character, called only Ryder. The entire movie takes place in a matter of (really tense) hours.
I didn’t like it but my movie partner Eric did, so we’re pulling out the Siskel & Ebert-style review again.
PCN: I didn’t like this movie.
Eric: Really? Nothing about it?
PCN: I liked Denzel’s work. He’s always solid. But Travolta’s character was not that interesting a bad guy. He had no right to be mad at the city. And Travolta didn’t just chew scenery. He devoured it, regurgitated, then chewed it some more.
Eric: I admit he did go for flash over substance. But it’s a rare occasion when I get to see a movie in which I could relate to the hero. Garber’s not a superhero like Wolverine; he’s just an average guy having a really bad day. His character arc held my interest and I stayed with him as he took me through the whole story. He kept the movie on track for me, pun intended.
PCN: I had no problem with Garber. But a hero is only as compelling as his foil and Ryder was too cartoonish. It was like the lead actors were in different movies. Denzel kept it real while Travolta was over the top. There were funny moments in the movie but sometimes I laughed when I wasn’t supposed to.
Eric: Ryder is never going to make my list of top villains ever. But his goal was simple: He wanted that money and he’s going to take it by any means necessary.
PCN: And we go back to his character being one-dimensional. The best villains have interesting reasons for their actions. Remember why Pacino held up that bank in Dog Day Afternoon? Ryder’s motivations were too simple, as you say.
Eric: Then focus on the bait and switch, how you thought his goal was one thing and it turned out he was doing something else.
PCN: By the time that was revealed, it was too late. I had stopped caring about why he was doing anything. And the ending—that scene on the bridge—didn’t make any sense to me. **SPOILER ALERT!**
I don’t know why the cops didn’t take Ryder out as soon as he reached for his gun. He would’ve been riddled with holes. Garber wouldn’t have been able to take that one shot.
PCN: The action sequences were uninspired. Nothing new or exciting here.
Eric: The only problem I had with the film was that New York could use a break from being terrorized on screen.
PCN: Well, then you’d have to change the title and mode of transportation. They don’t have subway trains in Omaha.
Eric: Good point. I’d still recommend this movie.
PCN: I’d say save your money or see Up again.
Nerd verdict: 1 2 3 is a rote, by-the-numbers action flick. Eric’s verdict: Worth buying a token for it.