‘Unstoppable’ is One Solid Action Flick If You Can Overlook the Overused Plot Devices
With a plot that is way too similar to Speed, Tony Scott delivers us a movie that’s not quite as explosive as a missile the size of the Chrysler building in Unstoppable.
Don’t get me wrong. The movie is enjoyable and suspenseful, especially towards the end. Tony Scott brings it to life with fast-paced editing and camera angles of America’s rural backyard. However, the story is so basic, I felt live I’ve seen it 20 times in my lifetime. They call movies like this “popcorn flicks,” but with talent like Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as the movie’s leads, you can’t help but feel like the movie could be so much more. Washington plays Frank Barnes, the 20-year-plus veteran engineer who can tell how long a train is just by looking at his sideview mirror. Chris Pine is Will Colson, a rookie conductor, with only four months training under his belt who is assigned to Barnes on his first day. The class issues are pointed out early as the older employees find themselves being edged out and replaced with folks like Will. Nonetheless, Barnes and Colson get to know each other in the early hours of their first job together. Barnes has 2 daughters who work at Hooters (classy) and Will Colson is working on making his estranged wife and kid less estranged.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks, Dewey (Ethan Suplee), an overweight conductor, jumps out of a train to flip a switch, but “oh wait,” he’s not quick enough to jump back on. And that’s how the story of a runaway train becomes a runaway train. In fact, the movie is oversaturated with these “oh wait” moments in order to cheaply escalate the suspense of the plot. Connie the yardmaster (Rosario Dawson), upon finding out about the “cruiser”, will just follow her common sense and clear the track of any oncoming trains. “Oh wait.” It’s not just a cruiser. It’s a runaway train. “Oh wait.” It’s about to go on a head-on-head collision with a train full of kids. “Oh wait.” It’s not just a runaway train. It’s holding hazardous chemicals, making the train “a missile the size of the Chrysler building.” “Oh wait.” It’s now about to hit Frank and Will’s train! As you can see, Tony Scott takes a simple premise and just when you think it can’t get worse, it does because (sarcasm) a runaway train isn’t suspenseful enough. In that sense, the script was a little bit lazy.
Tony Scott also makes a trite statement about bureaucratic incompetence. Instead of listening to Rosario Dawson’s sound advice on how to handle train 777, her superior (Kevin Dunn) decides to try about 2 or 3 ideas that either don’t work, waste time and resources, or get people killed. In the middle of all this, the bigwigs upstairs aren’t upstairs at all. They’re on the golf course discussing how this real crisis will affect the future of their stocks. I’m surprised that Tony Scott didn’t have them eating caviar and petting an evil-looking cat.
But despite all this “popcorn flick” cheesiness, the chemistry between Washington and Pine is a treat to watch. Washington is the guy who is simultaneously the family man with nothing to lose and “too old for this shit.” Pine is the bad boy honestly trying to get his life together. And by the time the last 30 minutes of the movie arrive, we’ve been properly educated on how serious it is if this train crashes, which makes the heroics of Colson and Barnes that much more of a spectacle.
Some people would call this movie back-to-basics for Tony Scott. Other people would call it “nothing groundbreaking.” Either way, Unstoppable is a train ride that won’t have you asking for your money back.