It has been the best part of a decade since I saw the original film version of this story but I still remember it being pretty enjoyable with a dark edge of comedy. From the opening seconds of the remake it is clear that the focus here is going to be on the action. Jay-Z's 99 Problems kicks things off while the camera swooshes and zooms round as all the main players move into position – within minutes subway car Pelham 123 has been taken and a race to save the hostages begins. The rest of the film is meant to be exciting and tense and we know this because the camera is constantly swooshing and throwing in slow-motion bits here and there to let us know that the stakes are high, lives are on the line and that we should all be tense.
Sadly, while the cinematographer is keen to make sure we know this, nobody else seems that bothered because the film does nothing to justify the sweeping camera movements and pumping soundtrack. In terms of physical "money up there on the screen" action, there is very little and what there is just seems thrown in for the sake of having some action (the car crashes trying to get the money in on time) rather than being part of the film. This in itself is not a problem by any means, because the nature of the plot did always suggest that the spark would be in the dialogue and the interplay between the two stars. Sadly this is lacking as well. It isn't "bad" though, but it just lacks spark, impact and tension. The problem is mainly with the script but director Scott doesn't seem to know what to do with it all anyway and seems desperate for characters to get shot or for things to crash into something just for the sake of having action. Travolta appears to be happy just to ham it up with a simplistic performance that matches the basic feel of the film. Washington had the harder job and suggests he could have done it with better material and direction – instead he is thrown into forced dialogue and unlikely semi-action sequences towards the end. The supporting cast is pretty good through with a handful of HBO faces in there (Sopranos' Gandolfini, Generation Kill's Kelly and The Wire's Akinnagbe). Gandolfini, Guzman and Turturro all do the good work you would expect from them, although again all are limited by the material.
It is not an awful film, so if you are looking for a glossy but basic thriller with stars and a big budget then this will just about be good enough to pass the time. The lack of spark and tension is the killer though and this the film cannot compensate for no matter how many time the camera swooshes around or the editor makes quick cuts – the failure is deeper than that and nobody appeared to be able to address it to make this film better than it was.
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