Film Friday: ‘Taking of Pelham 1 2 3’ & ‘Imagine That’

by W. Andrew Powell

Denzel Washington in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Denzel Washington in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Out this week in theatres, Denzel Washington and John Travolta star in the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, while Eddie Murphy and Yara Shahidi star in the family comedy, Imagine That. I also take a look at the upcoming documentary, Food, Inc.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Based on Morton Freedgood’s 1973 novel, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a reimagining of a story that has appeared in theatres once before, and made it to television 11 years ago.

In the new film, Denzel Washington plays Walter, an everyman working as a dispatcher for the New York subway system who must deal with a group of train hijackers, led by John Travolta as the twisted Ryder.

The day seems to start like any other until one train, Pelham 1 2 3, suddenly stops in the middle of the tracks. As Walter tries to figure out what is going on, Ryder takes control of the lead car with a hand full of hostages.

When Ryder finally starts talking to Walter, he asks for ten million in cash in exchange for all of the hostages, and gives them one hour to pay or warns that people will start dying.

Directed by Tony Scott, who previously worked with Washington on the film Déjà Vu, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a fairly clever action thriller, with more laughs than I expected. The film also benefits from Washington’s ability to play the perfect everyman.

Travolta’s over the top villain is also an asset to the film, although it’s a mild understatement to say that he frequently chews on the scenery. Travolta is better here however than he has been in some time, and I credit that all to Scott’s direction. I also highly appreciated the great character work of John Turturro and James Gandolfini, both of whom made the film even more enjoyable.

Written by Brian Helgeland, who also wrote Man on Fire for Scott, the story is taut and the dialogue is surprisingly good. The problem with is really that the third act falls apart after an incredibly promising opening and middle. While the rest of the film is almost believable, or at least as close as Hollywood usually gets, the final act is almost laughable. The only great moment is in the film’s utterly simple but praiseworthy final scene.

My last big complaint is probably my most troublesome as it’s directed at editor Chris Lebenzon.

Lebenzon has done some great work editing films like Deja Vu and even Corpse Bride, but his choices in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 are way over the top, probably at the insistance of Scott. Some of those choices work to build up the intensity of the story, but more often than not I just found his editing distracting, playing out far too much like a very bad music video.

I’m still recommending The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, but it is best enjoyed as what it truly is: a light action thriller with bravado rather than brains. I also have to hope that Washington picks himself up and moves on to better roles or he is going to become the stereotype Travolta has happily become.

Imagine That
Eddie Murphy is back for a new family comedy this week with director Karey Kirkpatrick’s Imagine That.

Starring alongside Yara Shahidi as his young daughter, Murphy plays a business executive who needs to step away from his work to spend more time with his family. He finds a good reason to finally spend more time with his daughter though when she begins offering answers to his work problems, which pop up from her imaginary world.

On the brighter side of things, Kirkpatrick previously directed the amusing animated film, Over the Hedge, which I enjoyed. The problem is that Murphy has been doing so many bad films recently, I’m not sure I trust him to even make a family film work.

Murphy is an incredibly talented actor, but his film choices have not been top notch, and he really needs a director who can get a great performance out of him. Aside from the Shrek, his resume is punctuated by terrible films like Norbit, and The Adventures of Pluto Nash.

So far, there are not many reviews, but a few critics are suggesting it’s good enough to entertain the kid.

“Arguably the most innocuous pic of Eddie Murphy’s career to date,” Joe Leydon wrote for Variety, “Imagine That is an undemandingly pleasant, mildly amusing fantasy.”

Also coming soon to select theatres…

Food, Inc.
For North Americans, food seems to be an abundantly available commodity that you almost don’t need to think about any more. We live in a time where supermarkets and stores are offering more than they ever could before, and there rarely seems to be shortages.

While people have started to think about eating locally, and where their food comes from, there still seem to be a lot of questions worth asking and Food, Inc. is looking at a lot of things that should still concern people when they go shopping.

This documentary might scare some people, looking at things that we sometimes like to ignore, but it’s an incredibly important film, and it could change a lot of people’s opinions.

As the filmmakers point out in Food, Inc., you also have more choice than ever before, and by shopping differently you’ll send a clear message to the companies that sell us the food we live on.

As Edward Douglas of wrote, “[Food, Inc. is] an important film, a fascinating and intelligent doc that’s easily one of the best of the year. [It] could very well make a huge difference in how you decide what you put in your mouth.”

Visit for more on the film.

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