Drive-By Movie Review: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Readers: Here is an oldie but goodie from the Len Penzo dot Com archives. Yes, I used to do movie reviews with the Honeybee. After reading this, you’ll know why we eventually stopped.

This is a review of the 2009 movie The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

Plot Summary: Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day’s work for dispatcher Walter Garber into a face-off with the mastermind behind the crime.

Me: This movie was a remake of the 1974 classic of the same name starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw and Jerry Stiller.

The Honeybee: Not the same Jerry Stiller from Seinfeld and The King of Queens?

Me: The very same one, Honeybee.

The Honeybee: I never pegged him to be a serious actor, but I guess if guys like Adam Sandler and Bill Murray can take on a serious role or two, so can Stiller.

Me: I have to confess I never saw the original version, but if it is as good as the remake then I will be watching it soon.

The Honeybee: I liked this movie too. Why don’t you give a quick overview…

Me: This movie doesn’t waste any time getting right down to business. In the opening scene a New York City subway train is hijacked by a bunch of thugs led by a ruthless SOB named Ryder (played by John Travolta). Ryder then radios the control center to state his demand: $10 million in 60 minutes or the hostages will be killed at a rate of one per minute. On the other side of the radio is Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), who happens to be a transit employee currently under investigation for bribery. Ryder decides that he’ll only deal with Garber, marginalizing the NYPD’s chief negotiator (John Turturro).

The Honeybee: I thought James Gandolfini did a great job in this movie playing the mayor of NYC. I also thought Travolta looked like a real bad ass in this movie.

Me: What’s a sexy bad ass look like?

The Honeybee: I didn’t say Travolta looked like a “sexy” bad ass. I said he looked like a bad ass.

Me: But would you consider John Travolta to be a “sexy” bad ass?

The Honeybee: I don’t know.

Me: Why not?

The Honeybee: I don’t know!

Me: Well, help me out here, Honeybee. What do you think a “sexy” bad ass might look like?

The Honeybee: How did we get on this subject? I guess a “sexy” bad ass is somebody who is very good looking and looks like a bad ass — unlike you, who happens to look like a dork.

Me: Easy, girl. I’m just…

The Honeybee: Look, as an actor he was very convincing in the role. And then you throw in that evil mustache and the tats, and those sunglasses and he looked like —

Me: A bad ass.

The Honeybee: Yes.

Me: Just not a sexy bad ass.

The Honeybee: No. I think John Travolta is a great actor. There are very few movies where he seems to blow it — Michael, where he played that angel, is one of the few where I thought he pretty much sucked. I really liked him in Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Pulp Fiction, Face/Off, and A Civil Action.

Me: Did you like Travolta in Welcome Back Kotter?

The Honeybee: When I was a kid, I loved him in Welcome Back Kotter.

Me: Did you have any TigerBeat posters of him on your bedroom wall?

The Honeybee: You know it! He’s a cutie.

Me: I see. I guess it is kind of tough to be “a cutie” and a “sexy bad ass” at the same time.

The Honeybee: Are you out of your mind today? What gives?

Me: I’m fine. But I am curious now — what do you think about Denzel Washington? Do you think he’s sexy?

The Honeybee: He’s not my type, but he is a very good actor.

Me: I think Denzel is sexy.

The Honeybee: I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.

Me: Who is the better actor? Travolta or Washington?

The Honeybee: Very tough call. But if you are going to press me, and I know you are, I’ll save the few readers who are still following this lame movie review a minute of their life and say Travolta. The guy does everything Denzel can do, plus he can dance and does comedy.

Me: Agreed. But now we’re out of time — we’re already beyond my 750 word limit and I refuse to edit a single word of our conversation today.

The Honeybee: Then I have to say this is officially the worst movie review we ever did, and we’ve done a lot of bad ones.

Me: In five words or less, summarize the movie’s strengths and weaknesses, tell us if there was anything director Tony Scott could have done to improve the movie, and then and give the readers your recommendation.

The Honeybee: I think this movie was —

Me: Hut! That’s five words.

The Honeybee: Put a sock in it, Len. I liked Pelham 1 2 3. I thought it was a pretty good movie and it kept me in suspense — so I rate it a “buy.”

Me: Ditto. Why couldn’t your summary have been as efficient as mine?

The Honeybee: All you said was “ditto.”

Me: Exactly.

The Honeybee: Maybe next time we do this we can actually review the movie.

Me: Next time I’d rather we talk a little more about Denzel Washington.

Photo Credit: Annie Mole

(This article was originally posted on January 14, 2010)


  1. 1

    Mr. Moneybags says

    I hated the remake with a passion of the Christ, it was mainly all the financial stuff that ruined it for me.

    For instance, when the dozen or so hostages were taken hostage the movie showed that the stock indexes dropped by over 10% which was how much the markets dropped on 9/11 – not cool man! Not cool at all!

    That’s why I watch good movies like Alfred and the Chipmunks the Squeakuel and Transformers, those really get your IQ pumping!

    • 2


      Great minds do think alike! I noticed the 10% drop too, Mr. Moneybags, and even remarked to the Honeybee how unrealistic it was given what happened to the markets during 9/11. I absolutely swear I did! Still, I didn’t let that affect my overall recommendation. I usually forgive Hollywood for their tendency to abuse artistic license simply because I usually watch movies for a bit of escapism. Then again, if this were a documentary, I’d be outraged.

  2. 3


    When will these reviews be available in a video format as well? :)

    I saw the original Pelham 123 on tv a while back, and it was actually pretty decent. It was obviously from another era, but it held my attention – and was suspenseful like the remake.

    • 4


      I will be looking for the original version next time it runs on AMC. I did enjoy the remake. I think Travolta really did a great job in this movie – to me he is a very under-rated actor, even today. Like the Honeybee, I do think James Gandolfini did a magnificent job in his role as the NYC mayor. It was as if he based his character on a cross between ex-Mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani.

  3. 5


    Hey Len, I don’t watch many movies these days but my wife talked me into taking a break and watching this one last weekend. I thought it was entertaining.

    If it had been me, I would have let the bad guys go once I escaped rather than following them and putting myself at further risk. He had a wife and kids to think about, I doubt NYC would have taken care of his family had he died in pursuit. But, it did make for a better Hollywood ending.

  4. 7

    berry says

    How can you not love Vincent Vega (Travolta in Pulp Fiction)…am I right? His new role in From Paris With Love looks cool, even if the name sounds like a James Bond rip off…

  5. 8

    helen katz says

    there are 3 versions of this movie. the original theatre release, a made-for-tv version with vincent d’onofrio and the latest. each to its own!

  6. 9

    David C. says

    Travolta was at his peak with “Battlefield Earth”. Never before has he projected so much emotion onto the screen. Truly a classi….HAHAHAHAHAHA

    I’m sorry I can’t type this with a straight face.

    I hafta go get some caffeine now.

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