Unstoppable

Unstoppable

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The runaway train's coming down the track - does it blow? Not entirely, but considering the destination of the story is pretty much a given from the outset, Tony Scott's latest foray into train action - traction? - takes longer than it ought to build up a full head of steam.

Denzel Washington is Frank, a long-standing train engineer, who is about to have a very bad day and the worst of it is not, as he initially suspects, having to nursemaid new boy "yellow jacket" Will (Chris Pine) through his first shift. They both have a backstory but the details are so tediously cliched that even Scott and screenwriter Mark Bomback don't seem to want to probe them until well into the film. Thoughts of estranged and dead spouses are left in the siding as the pair of them get down to the all important setting of ground rules about who's boss while hooking up cargo carriages. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing down at the station yard. General klutz Dewey (Ethan Suplee) can't be bothered doing things by the book when he's trying to shuffle some trains about and before you can say "you're fired", a half-mile long train carrying noxious nastiness is hurtling down the tracks rather than coming to a gentle halt as he had intended.

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It's at this point that Scott gets amped up on the sugar and sets about action set-piecing his way through the rest of the film, as those unsuspecting and put-upon blue-collar workers Frank and Chris turn into have-a-go heroes because what they lack in cash they make up for in moral fibre, goddam it!

There's tension to be had on the train but Scott is clearly worried that we'll get bored, so he also serves up the stress of the control room, where Rosario Dawson's Connie is doing her best to keep the heroes alive while having a corporate battle with higher ups. They wear suits and are, therefore, evil and are more concerned with saving the cost of a train than hundreds of lives. Less successful is the decision to pinwheel away from the cab to breathless news reports, but then Scott has never been a believer in a less is more policy and here he just heaps up the plate.

The problem with the adrenaline overload means that early outbreaks of peril - in particular, a trainload of schoolchildren - are remarkably confusing, considering that we're dealing with trains on a straight line of track. But even if the logistics of where the train is seem mangled, there is a gradual gathering of momentum, so that, by the time Frank and Chris are taking on the train - complete with running, dangling and some large chunks of that backstory you had rather hoped they'd forgotten about - the tension begins to hum.

This is a genre film through and through and those looking for anything more than the tiniest whisper of social commentary would be well-advised to book a different ticket, but Unstoppable is solid, if forgettable, entertainment, that will no doubt plough a sizeable hole through the box office.

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2010
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Unstoppable packshot
An engineer and a conductor try to stop an unmanned runaway train.
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