Here Is New York 

click to enlarge pelham123.jpg
The Taking of Pelham 123
Directed by Tony Scott

Just because I prefer the films of Tony Scott to those of his pretentious older brother, Ridley, doesn't mean I'm convinced, as some have argued, that the former is some kind of crypto-populist action-movie genius. However, fanboys pleading the case for the director of Beverly Hills Cop II, Top Gun, True Romance and Crimson Tide will find plenty of ammo in T-Scott's zeitgeisty new Pelham remake.

Compared to Joseph Sargent's grungier original, about a hijacked downtown 6 train (released in 1974, months after John Lindsay left office), this Pelham isn't an especially clever or stylish latter-day B-noir. Better understood as a poor man's Girlfriend Experience, Scott's cynical rehash is an up-to-the-minute report on Big Apple corruption that, as a work of art, feels pretty compromised itself. The players include a Wall Street douchebag (John Travolta), an MTA administrator on the take (Denzel Washington) and a billionaire mayor (James Gandolfini) who pretends to ride public transportation while relying on his limo. Stock characters all, but they're also obvious stand-ins for real life counterparts. (Giuliani and Bloomberg are each subtexts of more than one joke, while scandal-plagued CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo appears conspicuously in news footage.)

Or, put another way, no one is innocent, as Travolta's white-cum-blue-collar criminal repeatedly opines. He ought to know. Wearing his signature toupee/goatee combo signifying evil and camp, the actor gives a calculatedly casual performance, fitting for a hypocritical studio film about a city where people sell their souls. During the finale, Travolta even tries to escape across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn, reversing the journey of Tony Manero.

Opens June 12

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