By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Unstoppable is, unfortunately, a long way from untoppable.
It's a race-against-time thriller about a runaway freight train -- a massive, unmanned, half-mile-long vehicular anaconda -- carrying combustible liquids and poisonous gas toward a population center.
Denzel Washington (above) plays Frank Barnes, a locomotive engineer and widowed father of two daughters who's about to be laid off; that is, he's saddled with what his employers refer to euphemistically as "forced early retirement."
He's teamed with Chris Pine (young Captain Kirk in 2009's Star Trek) as Will Colson, a young train conductor just starting out and hoping to learn the business from the old pro he's paired with.
But they don't get off to a promising start because Frank sees Will not only as an inexpensive replacement for somebody more experienced and expensive, but someone who got the gig through his nepotistic connections.
Together with Rosario Dawson as dispatcher Connie Hooper, they work desperately, chasing the speeding culprit in a separate locomotive, in a life-or-death attempt to prevent the toxic-spill disaster that appears to be imminent as the train hurtles through and past a string of central Pennsylvania towns.
This training film is action director Tony Scott's fifth collaboration with Denzel Washington (The Taking of Pelham 123, Deja Vu, Man on Fire, Crimson Tide). Scott (Top Gun, True Romance, Days of Thunder), who also produced, once again trots out his characteristically hyperactive visual style.
The screenplay by Mark Bomback is based on a true story that took place in Ohio in 2001. But Scott amps everything up to such louder-than-life, larger-than-life, faster-than-life proportions that he sacrifices real-world credibility in the name of comic-book escapism and derring-do.
That is, he makes the stakes too high -- even starting off by putting a trainload of schoolchildren in life-or-death jeopardy. Wall-to-wall action can be one wall too many.
The trains do most of the acting, with one serving as the villain. Not that there's anything wrong with what Washington and Pine offer up in the way of old school/young school conflict, but it's hardly there. These trained actors simply play second fiddle to the acting trains.
In "braking" news, there's just too much of the same kind of relentless, non-stop movement, accompanied by dizzying, unnecessarily headache-inducing camerawork and a lemme-outta-here decibel level.
Because there's more than enough real energy in what's being staged and shot, it seems counterproductive to pile on all the fake energy.
Many of the stunts (as opposed to the minimally used CGI effects) are undeniably spectacular, but even they are occasionally so over-the-top as to be risible.
So we'll stop 2 stars out of 4 for Unstoppable. This caffeinated thriller about a runaway train doesn't make you want to run away right away, but comes dangerously close to that point when it becomes a runaway movie.
- CBS 3's Ukee Washington is "Keeping It Reel" -- interviews with stars of Unstoppable...
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