Denzel Washington and Tony Scott. You hear those names and you immediately think of Man on Fire: Washington gets to kill bad guys in rectal ways, with Tony Scott providing stylistic verve that underscores his “Ass Kicker” credentials. Maybe if Washington could brandish a gun at some point in Unstoppable, the film might do more than chug along.
A B-movie at heart, Unstoppable centers around an unmanned train barreling through populated areas carrying hazardous materials – and it’s up to Frank (Washington) and Will (Chris Pine) to stop it.
One characteristic of a B-movie is the premise driven plot (check) and the commentary on contemporary political events (check). As corporate train overlords put whole towns at risk, you can’t help but think of the BP oil spill; or when Frank reveals that he’s being canned after working his conductor gig for 28 years, the recession. These messages aren’t didactic clubs, but fulfill certain tropes of the genre to make us sympathize with our leads, feel distaste for some foes, and be generally more invested in the heroes.
The most unfortunate aspect to Unstoppable is Tony Scott’s ADD use of the entire filmic tool box, saturating every second with aerial shots, quick zooms*, and wrap around pans to make people talking MORE INTERESTING! Those of us in the audience not on cocaine are sure to get a contact buzz.
For a film about an unstoppable train, I was hoping for more action pieces à la Speed, but overall the film kept away from CGI abuse and had adequate characters to get us through the picture. This helped ground what could have been an over the top piece of trash. An adequate film–not nearly as good as Man on Fire (which I still hold some reservations about)–but worth a rental.
*I want someone to take a pipe wrench to his camera’s zoom function.