20th Century Fox
Tony Scott, Denzel Washington and a train: de ja vu, anyone? You could be forgiven for thinking that you've been here before, given that director Scott's last outing with Washington was The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009), a remake of the 1970s hijacked train film which proved to be somewhat less-than-thrilling.
Unstoppable is a much more exciting outing than that film but strangely not as thrilling as a movie about an unmanned runaway train, as big as the Chrysler Building, packed with explosive materials and hurtling towards imminent disaster should be. Not that Scott, a director whose filmmaking vocabulary does not feature the word subtle, doesn't try to amp up the action with all manner of close calls, explosions and some pretty darn impressive helicopter work.
The only hope of preventing the removal of Stanton, Pennsylvania from Google Maps are two city rail workers (guffaw!): veteran driver Frank Barnes (Washington), and rookie engineer Will Coulson (Chris Pine), who just happen to be spending their first day together and aren't exactly hitting it off before they're made aware of the rogue train and their potential collision.
Rail HQ doesn't provide much help for our heroes but Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson), a rail commander, proves a good person to have around in tight spot. Why Rosario Dawson, always a welcome screen presence, doesn't get more and better films roles, I don't know.
According to the opening credits, Unstoppable is based on actual events which I take to mean that once upon a time a driverless train went for an unscheduled run. I'm not sure if there were explosive materials involved or if any rail workers rose to the challenge in quite the way that Frank and Will do, but it hardly seems fair to red card Unstoppable for acts of embellishment; it's not a documentary after all.
And despite the incredulities which mount as steadily as the freewheelin' locomotive's speed, the screenplay by Mark Bomback isn't nearly as dumb or insulting as it could have been. I may not have been on the edge of my seat, nor even have had sweaty palms, but I didn't feel the need to groan out loud or punch myself in the face either. It's a Tony Scott film about a runaway train; that should be enough information to help you decide whether you want to catch Unstoppable or not.