November 11, 2010


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Unstoppable (PG-13)
Denzel Washington and Capt. James Tiberius Kirk (or maybe his name is actually Chris Pine) are all that stand between Pennsylvania and disaster when a speeding, unmanned, toxins-filled train menaces the populace in Unstoppable, a movie whose philosophy is “why go big when you can go crazy screaming gigantic.”

It’s not just a speeding unmanned train. It’s a speeding unmanned train filled with hazardous chemicals. Headed toward another train full of school children. And a major city. Filled with the loved ones of the only two men who can stop it.

Insert crazy, ear-drum-shattering score and explosion here.

Frank Barnes (Washington) is the reliable, tried-and-true railroad veteran; Will Colson (Pine) is the newbie who is resented both for his youth (the young cheap guys are pushing out the older, more expensive guys) and for his family name, which people believe got him his job. The two are assigned to work together conducting a load of freight along a rail line that leads into Stanton, the town where both men and their families live. But elsewhere on the line, two doofus railworkers accidentally set in motion a train that is carrying several tanks of a combustible and poisonous chemical. This potential disaster is traveling at some 80 miles an hour and headed straight for a train full of kids on a school field trip, a series of crossings through small towns, farmland, a populated area, Frank and Will’s train and then their hometown, where in order to not derail: (1) the train moving at high speeds and pulling a half-mile of cars would have to (2) traverse an elevated track (3) that curves and (4) is above several fuel storage units.

Railyard supervisor Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) has quite the task on her hands.

If, as a movie maker, every time you had a question about a plot point or a special effect, you chose to not only do the biggest most action-movie-ish thing possible, but double that and then, like, put a horse in peril, you would get Unstoppable. Unstoppable is one exploding barrel of hyperactive monkeys after another, every bit of it extremed, or excuse me, X-Tremed!, to the max so that nothing resembles any kind of natural-seeming, sense-making narrative. (No, really, shooting with shotguns and handguns at the tiny kill-switch on a speeding train seems like a totally sensible, completely doable solution.) It is all “we’re going to run this bitch down” and “it’s a missile the size of a Chrysler building” with big, loud get-your-heart-pounding-or-die-trying music behind everything.

Do I need to clarify that it is also awesome?

Unstoppable is pure candy, pure laughable dialogue and outrageous stunts. It is entertainment distilled to its most perfect form; if there were some irreducible element that made up the molecules that form an action movie, Unstoppable would be it. B+

Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and peril and some language. Directed by Tony Scott and written by Mark Bomback, Unstoppable is an hour and 38 minutes long and opens in wide release on Friday, Nov. 12. It is distributed by 20th Century Fox.