If you can get past the overbearing opening credits, which go on and on with loud guitar riffs, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is solid cops and robbers fare. The flawed movie works, thanks to Denzel Washington, who returns to acting, not the posing and strutting he’s been doing in recent film roles, as a city transit worker pushed to his limits by an extraordinary crime. John Travolta stars as a foul-mouthed thug who seizes a passenger-loaded subway train and demands $ 10 million in precisely one hour. Mr. Washington, in red-framed eyeglasses and an earring and bringing it home to a lovely wife (Aunjanue Ellis, last seen in Thomas Carter’s Gifted Hands), earns his way as a bureaucrat of dubious distinction, fumbling and stammering and joining John Turturro and James Gandolfini as a cocky cop and a groveling mayor in a New York City that no longer works. Based on the bestselling novel by John Godey, not exactly a remake of the taut 1974 movie of the same name (with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw), this acceptable caper screeches to a satisfying conclusion that cashes in on what it has earned.
Eddie Murphy stars in a little dollop of sentimentality called Imagine That, which suits its pre-Father’s Day opening just fine. Packed with half the Beatles catalog in cover tunes, notched with the cutest little girl on screen (Yara Shahidi) and featuring a predictable but positive plotline about parenthood, Imagine That is pure, silly fun at no one’s expense. Murphy portrays a financial adviser who competes with a charlatan (Thomas Haden Church) named Whitefeather that uses Indian mumbo-jumbo to make his money picks seem like a communal rain dance, like CNBC’s anchors talking up another Obama “stimulus” package, leaving stuffed shirt Murphy’s character out of the loop. Martin Sheen’s big shot businessman comes along, as the Murphy character starts believing that his daughter’s imaginary friends are giving hot tips—and they do pay off—and it’s all pretty ridiculous pap until the whole thing crashes like a Ponzi scheme and daddy learns that making money and raising a happy child are not mutually exclusive. This Paramount movie must be the first since The Pursuit of Happyness not to depict businessmen as ogres, which these days is enough to put a movie studio in Herr Obama’s penalty box. Cute, harmless fun for the family—or an afternoon outing for dad and daughter.