UNSTOPPABLE (director: Tony Scott; screenwriter: Mark Bomback; cinematographer: Ben Seresin; editors: Chris Lebenzon/Robert Duffy; music: Harry Gregson-Williams; cast: (Frank Barnes), (Will Colson), (Connie Hooper), Kevin Dunn (Galvin), Ethan Suplee (Dewey), Kevin Corrigan (Inspector Werner), Lew Temple (Ned), Kevin Chapman (Bunny), T. J. Miller (Gilleece), Jessy Schram (Darcy Colson), David Warshofsky (Judd Stewart); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Tony Scott/Julie Yorn//Eric McLeod/ Alex Young; 20th Century Fox; 2010)
“As long as the train is chugging along and the camera is on it, the film can’t go wrong.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Tony Scott (“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”/”Top Gun”/”Crimson Tide”) directs this adequate but forgettable old-fashioned runaway train pic, that has likable heroic characters, rich hyper visuals of speeding trains, stunning photography of industrial and scenic natural landscapes, and lively action shots that seem impossible to accomplish in the real world but are entertaining as make belief Hollywood heroics.WriterMark Bomback bases it on a true story, which he generously embellishes (the real incident is about a 47-car train that in May 2001 was coasting at 46 miles an hour unmanned across Ohio for some 65 miles and also contained some hazardous cargo–but there were no such heroics as depicted in the film). The film has a seemingly mesmerizing thing for the trains and some good train lingo; it’s set in the Pennsylvania train yards. The blue-collar favored film embraces its ordinary working-class heroes while throwing monkey wrenches at their untrustworthy upper-crust bosses.
There’s human error in the northern train yard by a screwup slovenly yard engineer (Ethan Suplee) that causes an unmanned train, AWVR locomotive 777, carrying toxic chemicals, to speed out of control, with no safe way of stopping. Since the freight train has many cars, it’s compared to “a missile the size of the Chrysler Building.” Tension is generated between the no-nonsense yardmaster Connie Hooper () dealing with the emergency while trying desperately to avert the possible catastrophic consequences and all the while dealing calmly with her oily operation boss (Kevin Dunn), more interested in saving the company’s ass than his men’s. The other train on the tracks, in danger, has a new young conductor, with a bad attitude and big mouth, just out of training school, Will Colson (), team up with even-tempered conscientious veteran engineer of 28 years, Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington). While the two rap trying to get to know each other, they make a stab at getting along despite their differences and soon bond when they realize their first day working together is going to be a dangerous one.
Things turn predictable, bland and conventional when Frank goes hero on us and Will follows suit, as they put it on their shoulders to stop the runaway train that no one else can with a high-risk plan not approved by the operation boss. That Frank would risk his life when he just received notice that he was facing a forced retirement and that Will would go along with him and against the boss’s other plan on how to stop the train, when he was hired because of his family connection, gives the drama some fuel.
But the stylish film, which has some authentic airs about it and good interplay between Denzel and Pine, has the usual missteps in a Scott film–like overkill in adding on unnecessary storytelling (Pine’s marriage is on the rocks and Denzel’s widower character has him as a caring dad to his two teenage college attending daughters working in Hooters to defray costs) and too much style over substance. Wifey and the daughters follow the runaway train on Fox News and cheer their men on to victory, as if they were watching a football game. There’s a load of crap to deal with when not tuned into the train, but I wouldn’t expect otherwise in such a mainstream blockbuster pic that would be too scared it will derail if it goes off its formula. Anyway, as long as the train is chugging along and the camera is on it, the film can’t go wrong.
REVIEWED ON 11/13/2010 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ