If you can get behind the basic idea of Unstoppable -- that being a runaway train that happens to be carrying toxic waste that could cause an explosion destroying an entire city -- then you might be able to enjoy it. I was laughing the entire way through, and while it passed the time, I can't say I was thrilled. For me, the whole 90 minute running time was filled with moment of unintentional humor.
The film begins with newbie train conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine) trying to find out who his partner is going to be for the day. It turns out that it's Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington), and that Frank doesn't take too kindly to the "yellow vests." There's some enjoyable back-and-forth banter between the pair, and for a while, it seems like they're never going to get along, especially after Will makes a couple of rookie mistakes that Frank has to correct.
Meanwhile, back at the station, a man named Dewey (Ethan Suplee) has made a grave error. He got out of the train car while his train was in motion, accidentally put it on full-throttle, and now the train is out of control, headed full-speed along the track. If it derails, it will cause a massive explosion. At the train control headquarters, yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) is trying to figure out just what to do about the situation, fighting with her superiors about what will be both the safest and most cost-effective manner to deal with the train.
If you're guessing that Will and Frank might end up as the only people able to possibly stop the runaway train, you're not wrong. Well, there are other attempts as well, but it's pretty clear from the beginning of the picture that they're going to be the ones counted on. After all, what other use would they serve? They're earlier bonding is going to be put to the test while running down and trying to halt something that could potentially wipe out an entire city -- a city that houses Will's estranged wife and son.
Of course it's a race against time. And everything seems to go wrong. And children are in danger. And relationships are pushed to the breaking point. And so on and so forth. This isn't exactly a difficult film to figure out, and it's not going to try to disguise itself for your benefit. Director Tony Scott knows exactly what type of film he's making, and could probably direct something like Unstoppable in his sleep. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he was asleep, or maybe half-asleep during this film's production, as it's so by-the-numbers and safe that any creativity seems to have left the director.
If you're going to enjoy Unstoppable, and you've already managed to put the silly premise and circumstances behind you, you'll also have to posses a tolerance for shaky-cam, as it's used in pretty much every scene. There's also a lot of quick cutting, and while this style does make things appear more frantic than perhaps they need to, it's also annoying and eventually insufferable. There's too much of it to be effective, and in the end, I had a headache from this film.
Unstoppable purports to be based on a true story, in this case, an event that took place in 2001 about an out-of-control train. Again, take that tag with a grain of salt, because if you're expecting a true-to-life film about the CSX 8888 event, you're going to be disappointed. I still don't understand just why films like this need to tell us that they're based on true events, as I just don't care. Do other people? Is it more marketable that way? Will more people watch it if it's "based on real life"?
Unstoppable is a good time waster, though, and it'll function perfectly well if you're wanting to watch something because you have nothing else to do for an hour and a half. Or, let's say, if you wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep -- it'll function as a way to wake you up, but if you're still somewhat drowsy, it won't make you think too hard. The relentless action might even tire you out! I don't see it being something that is anything more than that. It's an entirely forgettable, by-the-book production that's silly and not boring.
It does have some good actors, which always helps out. The weakest out of the main bunch is Chris Pine, but he's charming enough to work and a couple of exchanges with the always-reliable Denzel Washington are quite enjoyable. Members that round out the supporting cast include three Kevins: Kevin Dunn as the evil businessman, Kevin Corrigan as an FRA inspector, and Kevin Chapman as a railroad dispatcher. There's also Jessy Schram as Chris Pine's wife, as well as Meagan Tandy and Elizabeth Mathis as Denzel's children -- also the weakest actors in the film, ending up more like cheerleaders than anything else, even when their father's life is on the line.
Unstoppable is a film that's never boring, but never amounts to anything of substantiality. It's not exactly bad, but we've seen it all before and there's nothing to make it stand out from the crowd. Put it on in the background or when your mind isn't quite ready for a deeper film, and it will pass the time just fine, but if you're hoping for something new and exciting, Unstoppable won't satisfy.
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