Summer remake, 1 2 3…
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures, Denzel Washington stars as Lieutenant Zachary Garber in ‘The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3”

Associated Press

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Rated R for violence and pervasive language. 106 min. Two stars out of four.

The way the original 1974 film's title has been condensed tells you everything you need to know about the direction "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” is headed.

In these fast-paced, mixed-up times, it simply takes too long to spell out the numbers. Then again, just knowing the director is Tony Scott ("Top Gun,” "Man on Fire,” "Domino”) is a major indicator of the changes in store.

A low-key, steadily paced thriller about a New York subway hijacking has been amped up with Scott's trademark acrobatics: incessant camera movement, sped-up footage that jarringly cuts to slo-mo, seizure-inducing edits and a blaring soundtrack. Considering that you have heavyweights Denzel Washington and John Travolta squaring off, with a script from Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential”), you just want to scream at the screen for Scott to settle down and let the exchanges play out for themselves. For the brief moments he does just that, "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” can be an engaging battle of wits, despite its preposterous premise.

Inspired as the original was by the John Godey novel, "Pelham” stars Travolta in the Robert Shaw role as Ryder, the leader of a group of baddies who take over a downtown 6 train. He demands $10 million in one hour (up from $1 million in '74) or he'll start killing the passengers. Washington (in the Walter Matthau role) plays Walter Garber, the dispatcher on the other end of the microphone who must listen/probe/stall/cajole as a de facto crisis negotiator.

While Washington brings his typical grace to this rare regular-guy role, Travolta gets shrieky in a way that recalls his performance in the infamous "Battlefield Earth.”

Imagine That

Rated PG for some mild language and brief questionable behavior. 107 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

The words "Eddie Murphy family comedy” are enough to send shivers down the spine of any self-respecting film lover.

Between "Meet Dave,” "The Haunted Mansion” and "Daddy Day Care,” he doesn't exactly have the greatest track record with this genre, at least in terms of quality (box-office success can be an entirely different and often baffling phenomenon). Which is what makes "Imagine That” such a pleasant surprise.

It's based on a clever premise and it makes good use of Murphy's comic strengths — singing, dancing and creating myriad voices and personalities — without letting him go overboard and get too obnoxious. Its feel-good revelations are predictable, yes, but it only really turns sappy toward the very end. And it offers an irresistible young co-star in newcomer Yara Shahidi, who very much holds her own as Murphy's daughter without being too cutesy or cloying.

Murphy stars as Evan Danielson, a Denver-based financial executive who barely has time for his 7-year-old, Olivia.

Estranged from his wife (Nicole Ari Parker), Evan is stuck watching Olivia for a few days but has no idea what to do with her, so he ignores her and instead focuses on his computer screens and constant phone calls. But she's paying attention to everything he says and does — and so are the princesses, Olivia's imaginary friends.

Somehow, the princesses come up with advice on which stocks daddy should buy and sell — and somehow, they're always right. When Evan gives in and starts following their suggestions, he becomes a superstar at work — and naturally, learns to loosen up at home and have a little fun with his daughter in the process.

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