Decent entertainment, but doesn't hold a candle to the original
I went to the this most recent remake of Pelham 1-2-3 (most don't even recall the made-for-TV version filmed in Toronto - with good reason) with an open mind. I was weened on Godey's book when 8, and saw the original film when it was released a few years later. I've committed practically every line and scene to memory. I'll admit.... I'm biased. I felt the original could not be successfully remade... the gritty feel, the outstanding David Shire soundtrack, the believable performances of the ensemble cast..... and I was right. I did not go into the theater hoping to hate the remake, but instead to like it. I REALLY wanted to like it. I have always enjoyed both Denzel Washington and John Travolta in their various endeavors and thought the chemistry might work fine here. While entertaining, it became almost tiresome after a while. I felt no tension, no "edge of the seat" sensation that the original brought, I found myself disliking most of the characters and really not caring what happened to them. It passed the time, had some thrills, but that was about it for me.
The '09 version is entertaining, with some excellent action scenes and more than a few decent dialog exchanges between characters, but it is nothing more than a Tony Scott action movie dressed up as "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3". While starting off liking Washington's character (now disgraced MTA administrator-turned dispatcher Walter Garber, as opposed to Detective Zachary Garber in the book and original screen incarnation), I found, as the movie progressed, that he went from believable to just another two-dimensional action movie hero who, if he was what as he really started out as being, would not have ended up doing what he did in the film. Sorry, no spoilers here gang. You'll have to go judge for yourselves.
Travolta was dynamic, putting in a great performance, but I found his manic characterization not befitting as the supposed master-mind of the criminal plot involved. Remarkably, there were three other hijackers in the movie. I don't know why Scott even bothered including them. They were not only ineffectual characters with lackluster performances, but totally lacked the dynamic presence and interplay between the hijackers of the original film so much so that you barely even noticed them - or cared. Oh well, I guess it would not have been practical with only one hijacker....
The dizzy camera-work and stylized production were tedious at times and distracting. The soundtrack was, IMHO pure garbage.
Like I said, I found it entertaining, but despite some opinions that the "updated" and "freshened" plot was exhilarating and an improvement on the '74 incarnation, I honestly don't think the Matthau/Shaw/Balsam version need worry about being eclipsed by this remake. Go see it though, as it is fun summer fare and if you have no ties to the original, you'll probably find it relevant. Afterward, do yourself a favor and rent the original. You'll see the way the story was meant to be done.