By Chris Nashawaty
Updated June 08, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT
Steven Vaughn

The Taking of Pelham 123

  • Movie

Starring: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini
Directed by: Tony Scott
Release date: June 12

The 1974 subterranean thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three isn’t what anyone would call an untouchable classic. If it’s remembered for anything, it’s for the hangdog Walter Matthau’s garish shirt/tie combinations and the squalor of New York City’s subways. But for anyone who is protective of the original, the good news is that the update stars Washington (stepping into Matthau’s civil-servant shoes…and ’70s shirt and tie) and Travolta as a hostage-taking wackjob who paralyzes the city’s underground transit system by taking a train and its passengers prisoner. ”In the original, the ransom was $1 million and there was no real motive,” says director Scott. ”In ours, John has a reason. He’s just out of jail, his life’s been ruined, and he wants to humiliate and take revenge on the city of New York. Also, this time he’s asking for a lot more than $1 million.”

Besides adjusting for inflation, Scott says that he did everything he could to elevate the film from being just another summer popcorn flick (about which the man behind Top Gun and Crimson Tide knows plenty). For starters, he intentionally kept his cat-and-mouse thriller’s cat and mouse apart. ”I think Denzel and John shook hands once at the beginning of the shoot and didn’t see each other until the end of the movie.” Also, Scott introduced his stars to a pair of real-life New Yorkers to model their characters on: For Washington, it was a 65-year-old Albanian MTA worker; for Travolta, a city worker sent to jail in the ’90s during a parking-violations scandal. Strange as it may seem with roughly 80 movies between the two Holly-wood giants, Washington and Travolta had never worked together until this film. So how did it go? ”John’s a legend,” says Washington. ”He gets to have all the fun. I’m the straight man. I set them up, he knocks ’em down.” All aboard!

The Taking of Pelham 123

  • Movie
  • R
  • Tony Scott