by Ryan Hill
A runaway train carrying explosive chemicals. A town in peril. A company looking to save itself. The only thing standing in the way of total chaos is two railroad employees caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If the plot for Tony Scott’s “Unstoppable” sounds like it would be more comfortable in the ‘80s as opposed to 2010, that’s because it would. But that’s a good thing. Action movies have become so overrun with aliens, robots and computer-generated images that it’s almost impossible to believe the characters in these movies are in real, honest-to-goodness danger.
“Unstoppable” stars Tony Scott regular Denzel Washington as Frank, a railroad employee who has to show the ropes to new guy Will (Chris Pine) while dealing with the fact that he’s been given a 90-day notice that his job has been terminated. The two get along like oil and vinegar until they receive word there’s an unmanned train carrying enough explosive chemicals to level a town heading their way at 70 miles per hour.
Scott, whose last train movie was the lame remake of the lame original “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” has been on a downward trajectory ever since 2005’s “Domino.” His MTV, ADD-on-steroids style can be so distracting, it suffocates whatever chance his films have of being successful, let alone coherent. “Unstoppable” that trademark style, but the film’s plot is so lean that it works, and gives the film a break-neck pace, ratcheting the excitement rating to 11.
It’s that excitement that makes “Unstoppable” so much fun and its problems so easy to forgive. Movies have replaced excitement with cool, trading in real thrills for artificial spectacle. “Unstoppable,” which barely uses any CGI, is a reminder that the idea of someone almost falling off a speeding train is infinitely more exciting than any CGI-laden alien invasion or natural disaster.
The film’s only real slip-ups are its greedy corporate villain and the increasing reliance on people watching and reacting to unfolding events on a television, as if the runaway train is some kind of sporting event. There are few things more boring and repetitive in movies than people jumping up and down yelling at a TV. It was boring in “Rocky IV,” and if it was boring in a Rocky movie, then it has no chance in any other movie. Period.
One would be hard-pressed to think the up-and-coming Pine, who burst onto the scene as James T. Kirk 2.0 in last summer’s “Star Trek,” would stand a chance acting alongside Washington, who at this point in his career is almost an institution and can eat actors alive with a simple “boom.” But Pine proves to be more than capable of going blow-for-blow with Washington. He has his own screen presence. Pine is equally at home playing a blue-collar railroad employee as he is captain of the Enterprise. For someone so new to the blockbuster game, his charisma and confidence shine, even next to Washington. He’s going to be around for a long time.
Grade: 3/4 Stars