Who's In It: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Luis Guzman, Victor Gojcaj, John Turturro, James Gandolfini
The Basics: John Travolta is the leader of a band of thugs who hijack a Manhattan subway for $10 million. Anyone who watches enough ransom-based movies knows that this doesn't seem like much coin to split half a dozen ways. Which means there's a secret about his identity that explains the relatively small sum. There are also some revelations about dispatcher Denzel's history and they come into play as the two spend a lot of time yakking incessantly in closeups, Denzel keeping his cool and Travolta doing that barky, snapping, angry dog thing he confuses with being a badass.
What's The Deal: Shouldn't there be, at this point in cinema history, some kind of handbook on how not to make a specific type of genre film? Like even if it's just secret copied notes passed from one hacky director to another, shouldn't there be universally agreed upon tips like, "Do not confuse swirly camera work with actual excitement." Or "Do not be utterly pointless." Or "Do not get so close up into the face of your star that you can tell what brand of hair dye he's using to make his freaky mustache extra inhumanly black." Or "Do not forget that if you plan to shoot a hostage thriller in one subway car then use that scenario for maximum tension and claustrophobia instead of hedging your bets with lots of above-ground car chases/crashes that do nothing to propel the movie." Or something.
Speaking Of That Swirly Camera: It hyperactively swoops and rotates around cityscapes and heads and rooms and street corners, it dips and dives and dizzies until you may have to close your eyes to maintain your equilibrium. It's a dazzle-camouflage technique that tries really hard to cover for the lack of true energy, all manic visuals and no substance. I know it's against Travolta's religion and all, but this movie could use some Ritalin.
Most Scenes Stolen By: James Gandolfini. He's the aloof, annoyed, post-post-Giuliani mayor who'd rather not be bothered by any of his duties, especially when they involve putting himself anywhere near harm's way. Of course, the movie's too concerned with nicey-nice resolutions, too, so they soften him up near the end. But until then he's funnier, meaner and smarter than his surroundings.
Worth Seeing Anyway For: Travolta's overacted, hissy-fit performance and meticulously manicured hair. He never inspires fear or worry but it's still fun to watch him shriek his way through his lines. Just listen to him as he takes multiple stabs at that 12-letter MF word: that's not the sound of a brutal thug, it's whiny bitching.
Way More Satisfying Movie About A Subway: The original early '70s version of this movie. Or Midnight Meat Train.