Director: Tony Scott Release Date: 24/07/09 Link: IMDB “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” a 1974 film starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, is a neat little thriller about a transit police officer trying to stop four armed men who hijack a New York City subway train and demand a $1 million ransom for the passengers. The new, contemporary version, “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” is how its predecessor would have turned out had Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor gotten his hands on it and injected it with “more power.” (Grunt it with me, Ah-ah-ahh) But unlike the many souped-up gadgets created by Tim Allen’s character on the television series “Home Improvement,” “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” doesn’t self-destruct in an embarrassing and unflattering way. Nevertheless, “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” does suffer a bit from director Tony Scott’s (“Déjà Vu,” “Domino” and “Man on Fire”) attempts to add some pizzazz by using his loud and dizzying trademarks, but once he allows everything to slow down the movie really starts to take off. Scott’s hyperactive bag of visual tricks is definitely an acquired taste, that’s for sure, and it’s one I doubt I will ever have a hearty appetite for. It’s not as though Scott’s directing ruined the film for me, but there are many occasions when his freeze framing, speedy editing and jumps between fast and slow motion get extremely annoying. But as distracting as Scott’s methods can be, the script from Academy Award-winner Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”) helps you forget about all those aforementioned shortfalls. The suspense-filled story in the first “The Taking of Pelham of One Two Three” is what made that movie so intriguing, and Helgeland has stayed fairly faithful to the original (both are adapted from John Godey’s best-selling novel) while also going a different route by placing more of the focus on the battle of wits between the two main characters, who are now played by Denzel Washington and John Travolta. Washington, who basically takes over the Matthau role, stars as Walter Garber, a flawed NYC subway dispatcher who describes himself as just an ordinary civil service employee. But his job turns out to be anything but ordinary when Ryder (Travolta, who replaces Shaw) and three gun-totting ruffians (Luis Guzmán, Victor Gojcaj and Robert Vataj) violently take over a subway car and hold the passengers hostage. In an intense game of cat and mouse, Ryder demands that Walter — and not NYPD hostage negotiator Camonetti (John Turturro) — finds a way to get him a cool $10 million (ever heard of inflation?) in 60 minutes. If Walter doesn’t get someone to deliver the city money down to the subway train within that hour, Ryder will eliminate one hostage every minute after the time limit, and there’s no doubt he means business. For much of the film Washington and Travolta don’t actually act alongside each other — their characters mostly communicate by radio — but they both still give gripping performances that help elevate the material. Washington is well known for playing power-hungry characters who are overly boisterous or hold a position of authority, but here he gets the opportunity to tone it down and it really is a welcome change. It’s just nice to be reminded once in a while that Washington can be just as effective of an actor when he is asked to portray a “regular guy” who is mild-mannered and unable to control everything around him. But while Washington’s Walter Garber lacks a certain wild side, you certainly can’t say the same thing about Travolta’s devious and vulgar Ryder, who can be sympathetic one minute and forcefully shoving a gun in someone’s face the next. Travolta’s scenery-chewing performance also provides some much needed comedy to the movie and he easily gives his best turn as a villain since 2001’s “Swordfish” and 1997’s “Face/Off.” The film also gets a boost from James Gandolfini’s (HBO’s “The Sopranos”) humorous performance as the beleaguered NYC mayor who could be considered a mix between Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani. (When the media finally gets a chance to probe him on the fiasco in the subway a reporter doesn’t hesitate to ask him about his failing marriage.) If you want my opinion (since you are still reading this, it tells me you do), the new “Pelham” doesn’t surpass the previous film in overall quality, but the distance that separates them isn’t very big. I could empathize with anyone who makes a case for either movie, however, I have to give a slight nod to the first offering because its ending packs a bigger surprise and is better executed. Rating: 7/10