Scott appears to have become train fixated after his last dismal flick, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, flopped. With Unstoppable, we have Speed without Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper and Sandra Bullock. In other words, the same premise without any of the dynamic characters. There are no scheming terrorists or even a lone psycho. The main star is the train and even though Denzel adds the star power, Unstoppable boasts not a shred of remarkable acting, just competent line delivery. It's all filler dialogue, and then on to the next nail-biting shot.
The premise is almost refreshingly bare: An unmanned train loaded with hazardous combustible materials must be stopped before it hits a highly populated area, while a veteran engineer and a young conductor race against the clock to prevent the catastrophe. It starts when the big dolt from My Name is Earl (Ethan Suplee) forgets to hook up air brakes on a train. Enter a lever that mysteriously moves into high gear, turning the beast into a runaway train. I was thinking ghosts, but no such luck.
Supposedly based on "true facts," the historical basis for Unstoppable is a May 15, 2001 incident in which an unmanned CSX train became a runaway, covering 66 miles in Ohio. It was stopped within under two hours, although in a far less dramatic manner than depicted in the movie.
Denzel and Chris Pine (Star Trek) play the working-class heroes thrown together to halt the renegade freight. Pine and Washington provide some good buddy camaraderie, and the rest of the cast does fine, considering that they're working with a limited soap opera script. Kevin Corrigan and Rosario Dawson add the kooky realism and Kevin Dunn plays the corporate middleman slime-ball. All actors give credible performances, but the scene stealer (if there is one) is Lew Temple (Devil's Rejects/Trailer Park of Terror) as Ned, the other hero, who speeds alongside the train with a police escort trying to thwart it at every stop.
Credit must go to Scott for all the amazing stunts that were pulled off with little to no CGI. Scott always makes a film easy and fun to watch, from his psychedelic angles to the quick zooms and fast cuts and the super close-ups. He also has a thing about technological communication evoking all his same great tricks used in Spy Games, Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State. But Scott saves his best shots for the train itself. Scott frames its massive bulk in one tilted angle and then its streamline missile effect in the next telephoto shot. The grandiose soundtrack comes complete with heart-beating synthesizers, Middle Eastern flairs and a lift from the Aliens vs. Predators soundtrack (trust me, it was in the credits). Scott uses a lot of television news coverage and since Unstoppable is a 20th Century Fox film, unsurprisingly, FOX News is featured. Pennsylvania is another big star in this flick as Scott beautifully captures the scenery and heart of America's railroad arteries.
Unstoppable, speeding towards more popcorn money, has all the elements of a beat-the-clock action flick. Like its central character, however, the film never diverges from its preordained course - even if hurtles at a frenzied pace.
Even the tense moments seem safe. This movie could have derailed a little and gone off into a more edge-of-your-seat territory. I think Unstoppable's biggest surprise is that there is no surprise. This is really a movie where you get exactly what you expect, nothing more, and nothing less.