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Posts Tagged ‘Pelham 123’

Rated MA

Director: Tony Scott

Stars: John Travolta, Ellen Degeneres, Eric Roberts

The Taking of Pelham 123 drew mixed reviews, but critics were united on one point: John Travolta’s villain had a small beard. So it was only logical that the Hollywood money men would try to parlay that beard into a franchise. And so Travolta and director Scott were persuaded to go around again.

This time, though, the would up the stakes – Travolta’s mad, bad baldie Ryder would hijack a plane – an elephant hunt to the first film’s grouse shoot. And no doubt, having decided on this plotline, both Scott and Travolta’s brains hit upon an even more exciting idea – what if Ryder hijacked John Travolta’s private jet? And what if Travolta played himself as well as Ryder?

And so we see Travolta, giving Eddie Murphy a run for his money, playing Ryder, himself, the president, an arrogant young rookie TV journalist, a stewardess, and in a triumphant melding of live-action and CGI, the plane, which speaks telepathically to Travolta throughout the film, giving him advice and building his self-esteem with well-timed compliments.

The really amazing thing is that, although Travolta refuses to change his appearance or vocal delivery in any way when switching characters, every one comes across as totally believable and sympathetic. And so we see the reporter, Harris, convincing all of us that he really does come from a broken home and is determined to get a scoop even at the cost of his cameraman’s life, to impress his irascible father – even though he looks and sounds like an overweight middle-aged movie star, and is in fact wearing the exact same clothes that Travolta is on board the plane, and indeed the same as Ryder as he brandishes his gun, and the stewardess as she panics and faints. They are all marvellous, allowing us to gloss over the question of why the stewardess is even there, or how Ryder manages to jimmy open a window and slip in unnoticed halfway through a trans-Atlantic flight.

The only possible quibble is with Travolta’s president, although this is less to do with the authentically Travolta-esque  performance and more to do with Scott’s insistence on shooting him only from underneath with a dark blue filter. It tends to make the Oval Office appear somewhat ridiculous, but all this is forgotten when we cut back to one of over forty extended fist-fights between Travolta and Ryder, and one steamy love scene between same.

Good support comes from Ellen Degeneres’s maverick air-force ace, and Eric Roberts’s mysterious Arab sheikh, who team up halfway through in an hilarious homage to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which may seem tonally inconsistent to some viewers, but does serve the important purpose of explaining what happened to Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston, who in the first scene wanders aimlessly out of shot and is never seen again.

Overall, Travolta 345 is quite an improvement on Pelham 123, mainly because where the first film was mostly empty flash and soulless action sequences, this one is mainly John Travolta talking to himself and making filthy jokes directly to camera. Also there’s a lot of good in-flight sequences, including one where Travolta escapes Ryder by going back in time and shooting down the Wright Brothers. Ryder himself has some good moments too, mainly featuring him talking to himself and making filthy jokes directly to camera.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a strong example of the lesser Scott’s ability to craft slick, intelligent action thrillers, and a welcome reminder of how good a film can be when a director simply lets a great actor let loose in a variety of different roles played exactly the same way down to the last detail.

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