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?

Columbia Pictures, photo by: Rico Torres

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.



  • Reply
    Shelley P
    June 11, 2009 at 4:18 am

    I enjoyed this, PCN and Eric. It’s almost like a good cop, bad cop review. 😉 We’ll probably wait for it to come out on DVD.

    • Reply
      June 11, 2009 at 8:00 am

      Thanks, Shelley P. It’s funny because Eric and I were kinda arguing about it when I stopped mid-sentence and said,”Wait, we should write it up like this!”

  • Reply
    June 11, 2009 at 6:37 am

    I still say, as talented as John Travolta is, he doesn’t make a good bad guy. Well, maybe in Swordfish, a little. It didn’t work for me in Broken Arrow or Face/Off. His “criminal” characters in Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty/Be Cool weren’t really bad guys, so those worked. Battlefield Earth was so ridiculous that it doesn’t even bear mentioning. There may be other movies with him in the bad guy role, but if so, I haven’t seen them.

    From what I’ve seen and read about Pelham 123, he should have swapped roles with Denzel. Now that might have made for a good movie.

    I understand that actors like to broaden their range and that playing bad guys can be fun, but please, not at our expense.

    • Reply
      June 11, 2009 at 7:58 am


      I could not agree with you more about Swordfish and Travolta. It’s also the last time Hugh Jackman was really great without relying on knives coming out of his knuckles.

      Having Denzel and Travolta switch roles would have been a great idea. You should work for a studio! That’s the kind of thinking they need.

      I’ll still probably check out the latest version of Pelham though.

      Thanks for giving us a review before it opens, PCN! More importantly, for giving us one we can trust.

      • Reply
        June 11, 2009 at 8:27 am

        That’s awfully kind of you, READER#9. Now that you’ve read Eric’s and my opinions, I’d love to hear yours after you see it.

    • Reply
      June 11, 2009 at 8:07 am

      Eddy, that is an excellent idea. If Denzel and Travolta had swapped roles, it would have been a much more interesting movie. Denzel did very good work here as the everyman but he would’ve torn it up as the bad guy. Likewise, I think Travolta would’ve found more traction as Garber.

  • Reply
    June 11, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Fun movie review, PCN! I quite agree with you re: the hero needing a quality foil (and vice versa). The pairing, and their performances, has to work toward that good outcome movies strive for. The pairing of Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw (in the 1974 original) worked so well–and no one had to chew any of the scenery in their performances to get there. That, and the combination of a good original story.

    But, this one’s another remake–the second one actually. Seems no one remembers (or recalls it with any fondness) the ’98 TV movie with Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio. Oh, well. But, at least we have Up!

    • Reply
      June 11, 2009 at 8:50 am

      I remember that ’98 TV movie, le0pard13, but I’m trying not to! When I was watching this latest version last night, I actually thought, “It should’ve stayed a TV remake. Or not been remade at all.” I saw no compelling reason why all that money had to be spent. Those two stars don’t come cheap.

      Up is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. Wish all movies could be that wonderful.

  • Reply
    June 11, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    I agree with PCN. Ya gotta have a bad guy who is bad for a reason not just because the hero needs a foil.

    Saw the original on DVD with Robert Shaw. Kinda don’t want to see this one. Shaw was really intense.

  • Reply
    June 12, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Thanks for the review. I was going to go, but will now wait for the DVD. Can’t seem to trust any of the mainstream sources these days. Won’t name names, but some publications I used to rely on owe me movie ticket reimbursement.

    BTW: Do you and Eric have a list of movies you are both looking forward to? I’d like to see that list.

    • Reply
      June 14, 2009 at 2:42 pm


      This summer, I’m most looking forward to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Public Enemies and The Time Traveler’s Wife (I’ve seen a cut of it). I’m also interested in Julie & Julia.

      Looking ahead to the fall and holiday season, I’m most eager for Avatar, Nine, Shutter Island and Sherlock Holmes.

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