Monday 8 November 2010

Unstoppable review

Unstoppable (12A/PG-13, 98 mins)
Director: Tony Scott
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

As a well established star and director partnership, Denzel Washington and Tony Scott have made some sweet music and churned out some desperate nonsense together over the years. From the success of Crimson Tide, it’s been a slow decline into the very silly Deja Vu and last year’s lumbering The Taking of Pelham 123. Their latest venture finds them back in the world of trains, but at least it’s a significant improvement over that pudding.

Inspired by an actual incident that took place in Ohio in 2001, Washington stars as a veteran engineer, while Star Trek’s Chris Pine also jumps onboard as a rookie driver just out of training who accompanies him as they shift freight around southern Pennsylvania. But thanks to the actions of a moronic employee, there’s an unmanned train heading towards them from the other end of the state.

To make matters worse, it contains several cars of hazardous chemicals, and if it makes it to the town of Stanton and a 15 mile an hour bend, there’s no way it will be able to stay on the track. When various attempts to slow it down or derail it fail, the only option left is for Pine and Washington to couple an engine to it and slow it down from behind before it reaches Stanton.

It’s a solid setup for an old fashioned disaster movie that may not quite have the momentum of a runaway train, but that provides enough goofy fun in enough places. There are some well staged collisions and derailments as the train ploughs its way through anything in its path, and it’s not too much of a Tony Scott film, with the director thankfully keeping his flashy visuals and hyper-editing to a minimum.

Because they need something to talk about, Pine is involved in a legal dispute with his wife, and Washington is estranged from his teen daughter, while they also have to contend with bosses more concerned with the financial implications than safety. These are fairly pointless distractions, but thankfully we’re in the presence of very good actors playing dependable characters, and their byplay manages to keep the interest. Rosario Dawson has a rather thankless role as a controller, but she gets to have some sparky exchanges to distract us when there isn’t really that much happening out on the tracks.

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