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On the Couch

THE Robin Williams beard theory of acting is a film-deciding model that has served me well over the years. I came upon it first during my time in the trenches of video store clerkdom and used it to steer manys a punter away from such horrors as Patch Adams and Toys.
The theory, if you’ve never heard it, goes like this: anything Robin Williams does when he has a beard is good, anything he does clean shaven is bad.
With the notable exception of his breakthrough TV show, Mork and Mindy, this theory has worked well for over 30 years of the furry jokester’s career. Think about it – has he had a beard for the last 10 years? Has anyone laughed during that decade? Exactly.
I think a similar sort of theory will soon be applicable to the work of the original JT, Mr Saturday Night Fever himself, John Travolta.
Cleanshaven in Pulp Fiction he was excellent but, if his performances in the likes of Battlefield Earth or this week’s release, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, are anything to go by then Travolta needs to have his membership of the Facial Fuzz Club revoked.
A remake of the Joseph Sargent’s 1974 classic starring Walther Matteau and Robert Shaw, Pelham ranks highly as one of those films that really didn’t need to be updated, fiddled with or re-anything else other than re-mastered and re-distributed.
So pretty much like The Assault on Precincy 13. Only less so.
Travolta stars as Ryder, a weird beard having train robber who hijacks a subway train in New York and holds the passengers hostage.
He gets on to subway dispatcher Walter Garber – played by a doughy looking Denzel Washington – with his list of demands and the two strike up a weird confessional-style relationship.
And essentially that’s it. There’s drama created by the arrival of the hostage negtiators (John Turturro) and the Mayor (James Gandolfini), Garber’s potentially dodgy past and the ransom complications but that’s pretty much it. In the hand’s of a more honest marketing team it could’ve been called Bloke on a Train.
The relationship between Washington and Travolta is the rock upon which this film perishes. Both accomplished actors, the boring script lets them down and the entertainment vacuum left isn’t filled with any sort of action, intrigue or excitement. You don’t care about the characters, so anything even remotely dramatic that happens is rendered bland and uninteresting.
What a waste of a fantastic cast and a director who really should know better.
Following on from that steaming pile of medocrity with a stellar cast is another (partial) remake that ends in disappointment.
The fourth in the Final Destination series, Final Destination 4 is likely to be the straw that breaks the franchise’s back. Unlike Pelham 1, 2, 3, you won’t recognise any of the cast (unless you’re, like, totally glued to MTV 24/7) but you’ll still find the story to be eerily familiar. That’s because it’s basically the first film all over again but without any of the charm, imagination, humour or creepy subtext.
Not that deviation from the tried and tested formula is what any of the Final Destination sequels are about. But at least 2 and 3 tried in some small way to add to the mythology and featured some hilariously gruesome and elaborately choreographed death scenes. They might’ve been a cheap thrill but at least they were thrilling.
The opening scene massacre – there’s always an opening scene massacre in Final Destination – takes place this time at a speedway track. Anonymous teen actor number one has a vision of an horrific accident that kills scores of people. He drags his mates, anonymous teen actors numbers 2, 3 and 4, out of the track and causes a kerfuffle that sees some other race fans leave as well.
Avoiding death at the track, they are then stalked by the fell hand of the grim reaper for the rest of the film, cashing in their chips in vaguely derivitive, Tom and Jerry-style deaths.
The only hook that differentiaed FD4 from its predecessors was that it was released in the cinemas in 3-D. Sadly this feature didn’t transfer to the small screen and all that remains are an unusually large number of people, things and body parts flying towards the screen.
Dead and buried, once and for all.

The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3 **
Directed by: Tony Scott
Starring: John Travolta, Denzel Washington, Luis Guzman

Final Destination 4 **
Directed by: David R Ellis
Starring: Bobby Campo, Shantel Van Santen, Haley Webb

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