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The Unstoppable Duo Called Tony and Denzel Are Back!

November 16, 2010

Reviews are out: Tony and Denzel are back. The dynamic action duo have rebounded spectacularly from the train wreck (pun intended) that was their last collaboration – the ill advised remake of Taking Pelham 123, with another train movie – Unstoppable. Film critic Roger Ebert noted, “The movie is as relentless as the train, slowly gathering momentum before a relentless final hour of continuous suspense. In terms of sheer craftsmanship, this is a superb film.” Of course, he’s not saying the film is nuanced or particularly ground-breaking, but his favorable review does seem to suggest this is a film, which echoes the thrills of the first pairing of director Tony Scott and Denzel Washington – the breathtaking submarine thriller Crimson Tide.

Director Tony Scott – brother of Ridley is responsible for some pretty damn iconic action films, many I count as personal faves. A sampling of his films includes: Spy Game, Enemy of the State, Top Gun and The Hunger. Sure there have been some missteps: The Fan, The Last Boy Scout and the ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful (in my opinion) Domino. To be clear, I am a huge Scott bros fan, with Tony being my fave, though it’s terribly difficult to choose. It’s one of the few pop culture areas where La Mommie and I disagree. She is equally enamored with the brothers Scott, though demonstrates a clear preference for Ridley. With Unstoppable doing serious damage at the box office reminiscent of the strong November showing of both Enemy of the State and Spy Game, I thought it would be fun to revisit the previous four collaborations of Tony and Denzel. I tell you what; it’s never bad to be Tony Scott releasing an action film in November.

Crimson Tide – May 1995 – cast: Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, George Dzundza, Matt Craven

If ever there was a movie embodying the song “It’s Raining Men” it’s Crimson Tide. The taut, murky submarine movie boasts a cavalcade of who’s that actor moments, “Oh snap, it’s Tony Soprano, The Kang, Logan’s first partner and that dude on ‘Treme nobody likes.” Beyond being a sharp critique of class, race and authority, the film is gorgeous looking. Scott is surprisingly judicious with swinging crane that often defines his action films. Without having seeing Unstoppable, I’d have to say this would be the pair’s most entertaining and successful collaboration.

Man on Fire – April 2004 – cast: Denzel, Christopher Walken, Dakota Fanning

The second collaboration proved decidedly less successful. Every time I’ve tried to sit down and examine what went wrong here, I’m reminded of Scott’s previous attempt to explore a similar theme – Revenge . Like the failed Costner vehicle, the Denzel kidnapping saga Man on Fire seemed to be under the impression that showing horrible things happening to characters would eventually encourage the audience to invest in the characters, rather than fully developing the characters and allowing the audience to find their own way. Much of the camera work and ultraviolence is manipulative and the audience doesn’t have a lot incentive to emotionally invest in these desperate characters.

Deja Vu – November 2006 – Denzel, Val Kilmer, Paula Patton

If lessons were learned from the critical and commercial failure of Man on Fire, they weren’t executed well. In fact, Deja Vu, which is not terrible and has a reasonably satisfying climax – seems a bit too cautious with its action sequences and at times is – well – kind of boring. It looks gorgeous, with its saturated colors, but the story unfolds entirely too slowly and the performances, which probably are meant to be restrained, are too safe. With the exception of Kilmer, who is quite good.

Taking Pelham 123 – June 2009 – Denzel, James Gandolfini, John Travolta

My first thought after viewing the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 was: Tony and Denzel really need to start seeing other people. Seriously, the thrill appeared to be gone with these two. The only reason I would watch this movie again just to see the Gand phoning in his best The Last Castle and pre-Sopranos bag of tricks. Like Stallone, filmmakers believe the simple addition of eyewear will confuse the audience thus making us forget the iconic characters they are better known for. And as the smarmy mayor of New York – wait, didn’t he play that character in The Siege or was he a ruthless general, no that was Willis – he was welcome distraction from the plot, which by this point had run off the tracks just like the subway car, Pelham 123.

Stay tuned for a review of Unstoppable!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2010 12:58 am

    Great analysis and you hit the nail on the head about Man on Fire. So right on.

    And really, I wondered about the need or desire to remake a film like Pelham when it really wasn’t something you could top (much like Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). If you can’t bring something MORE worthwhile to the story than the original, maybe that’s a clue that you should keep your filthy hands off it!

  2. November 16, 2010 8:31 am

    Thanks, Dean. The middle three Scott/Denzel collaborations have faltered, mainly due to script. It seemed like Denzel got the leftovers after all of other Scott’s projects.

  3. November 16, 2010 2:04 pm

    My problem with Deja Vu was not the pseudoscience and plotholes resulting, but the forced love story. I was chanting the whole time “please don’t go there” even though I knew they were.

    I thought The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 was enjoyable candy, because even though, as you note, both Travolta and Washington were miscast, it balanced out the ridiculous for me personally. Also, I didn’t watch the original movie until afterwards, so I had no reason to be outraged that they’d ruined something for me. The original has some fun moments of 70s NYC, it’s worth a look if you ever happen to catch it on cable/instant view.

  4. November 16, 2010 10:49 pm

    @raymondj the funny thing about the original film is the guy that played the mayor, Lee Wallace, looked a lot and even sounded a bit like Ed Koch, however Koch hadn’t been elected at the time of the film’s release! Abe Beame was still there (but soon to be gone). and how can you not love that authentic NYC cast, with Doris Roberts, Jerry Stiller, Matthew’s dad, James Broderick, and Elizondo as one of the thugs along with Balsam and Shaw! That really is what NYC was like in the 1970s, so it’s like a little time capsule/history lesson in addition to being a pretty compelling caper!

  5. Q.V. permalink
    November 17, 2010 1:27 am

    Just got out of Unstoppable, which I was supposed to see with the person who watched Deja Vu with me the last time (it is one of the two movies I own, not by design, it must have been on sale), but I couldn’t wait. I’ll see it again in a few days, then.

    Deja Vu moved slowly enough to be my insomnia movie–I could usually be asleep before that doll hit the water, and the music (even during the time-chase scene) didn’t wake me up again.

    Unstoppable, on the other hand, had me engaged enough to be talking out loud, even though, as you point out, nothing really surprising happened. I am a sucker for a runaway train.

  6. hsofia permalink
    November 17, 2010 2:41 am

    Yeah, Denzel as a humble, unassuming, manservant of the people … I wasn’t buying that in Taking of Pelham. Deja Vu – boring. And I like boring movies. It wasn’t just boring onscreen, it was boring in my mind.

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