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The Taking of Pelham 123 remake almost works 

Tony Scott mellows out, and delivers two-thirds of a good action thriller.

There are two Tony Scotts. The first one set the standard for high-end action movies in the late '80s and early '90s, giving Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop II and True Romance a look of bold colours popping through pervasive LA fog and haze. This Tony Scott died at the time of 1998's Enemy of the State, and was replaced by the one who directs movies like Domino and Man on Fire as though he's just inhaled a mountain of coke. The unstable editing hemorrhage of the opening credits to The Taking of Pelham 123, scored without context to Jay-Z's "99 Problems," is cause for worry. But Scott then mellows out, and delivers two-thirds of a good action thriller.

In the remake of the 1974 film, Denzel Washington is New York transit executive Garber, who finds himself negotiating with hostage-taker Ryder (John Travolta). Ryder spends much of the movie taking offense to being called a terrorist, which apparently dismisses the nobility of holding the hostages on a Pelham train. Scott delivers depth where it is unexpected, finding virtue in easy targets like real, by-the-book hostage negotiator Camonetti (John Turturro). His interplay with Garber (Washington doing his best to be a humble everyman) carries even more interest than the Washington/Travolta face-off. Garber and Ryder are contrasted with opposite straight/gay ear piercings and their different responses to workplace disrespect. But Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland let go of their dynamic just as it is developing. As a result, once the leads get off the phone and into Scott's stylishly haphazard action mode, the suspense slackens. The setup hits harder than the follow-through.

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