PLOT: After a careless conductor loses control of a freight train loaded with hazardous materials, a veteran conductor (Denzel Washington), and a young engineer (Chris Pine) must somehow regain control of the out-of-control locomotive before it releases its payload into their hometown.
REVIEW: UNSTOPPABLE is the third film I’ve seen in a row that feels like a reworking of an eighties classic. First, there’s was DUE DATE- which felt like an unofficial remake of PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES. Then there was MORNING GLORY, a riff on BROADCAST NEWS. Here, RUNAWAY TRAIN gets the Tony Scott treatment in UNSTOPPABLE, his latest collaboration with his favorite leading man, Denzel Washington.
To be fair, UNSTOPPABLE isn’t really a remake of RUNAWAY TRAIN, with the only thing the two films have in common being a runaway train, and the fact that it pairs a veteran leading man (formerly Jon Voight, here Denzel), with a younger one (Chris Pine in lieu of Eric Roberts). According to the poster and trailers, UNSTOPPABLE is inspired by true events, basically meaning that there was once a runaway train that was carrying some chemicals. Beyond that, I doubt there’s anything particularly true to life in this tale.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun ride, and under Scott’s direction, UNSTOPPABLE is a rip snorting action flick. It’s far better than either DÉJÀ VU, or the recent remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (no scenery chewing by John Travolta here), but it doesn’t quite measure up to the A-grade Denzel/Scott team-ups, CRIMSON TIDE, and MAN ON FIRE. Despite his advancing age, Scott seems intent on pushing the envelope further and further in terms of kinetic visuals, but UNSTOPPABLE is a notably toned down effort. However, we still get a few goofy Tony Scott touches, with Denzel’s two gorgeous daughters being Hooters’ waitresses (meaning MANY cutback to sexy Hooters’gals hurdled around TV sets watching the action, and jumping up and down when excited), and closing the film on a goofy pop-track that HAS to be Scott winking at the audience.
The best thing about UNSTOPPABLE is that it’s the rare modern action flick that doesn’t rely on CGI, with many of the train stunts and effects being practical. The film starts off a little slow, with too much time spent establishing out two heroes weak back stories (Denzel’s a noble widower and doting dad, while hot-headed Pine is estranged from his wife after threatening an ex-boyfriend of hers with a gun). Of course, Pine and Washington start off hating each other, but who wants to bet that by the end of the movie they’ll be best buds? Of course once the train gets out of control thanks to poor Ethan Suplee (who plays a character that may be even dumber than the one he played on MY NAME IS EARL), this film is off and running (or, one could say- UNSTOPPABLE).
Denzel Washington essentially plays Denzel Washington, which proves just how much of a reliable franchise unto himself that he’s become, as there are few actors out there that have been able to craft and maintain such an iconic persona. Despite being well into his fifties, Denzel looks much fitter than he did in PELHAM 123, and sports a cool-looking, shaved head. I’m a big Denzel fan, and I got a kick out of watching him back in action hero territory, and hopping from train car to train car in truly badass fashion towards the end.
In the sidekick role, we get Chris Pine fresh off his star-making turn as Captain Kirk in STAR TREK. There’s a reason people are so high on the guy, and he makes a suitably intense action hero- lending a bit of Steve McQueen-style cool to the role, although his “we’re gonna run this bitch down” one-liner got a few giggles out of the press screening I attended. While I couldn’t care less about his back-story, he does really well in the action scenes, and more than holds his own opposite Washington- who could have easily blown him off the screen.
Lest we get too testosterone laden, we also get the unbelievably sexy Rosario Dawson as the Rail yard controller. Sure, she has to handle a lot of clunky exposition, but at least she looks damn hot spouting off train jargon. God I love this woman!
All in all, UNSTOPPABLE is a lot of fun once it gets going, and out of the 100 minute running time, at least 70 of those are full of great action, and stunts. It’s a great throwback action flick, and I hope the lack of CGI starts a trend, as there’s something almost quaint about watching real explosions, and real stunts. One thing’s for sure, this approach makes for a more exciting film. If the standard CG route had been used, I probably wouldn’t have liked UNSTOPPABLE, as the screenplay is certainly nothing special (the whole thing can be summed up as follows “Denzel bitchslaps Runaway Train”), and doesn’t aim above being a B-thriller.
However, the stunts and the actors elevate this, making it a solid old-school action flick that can stand proudly alongside train action classics like THE TRAIN, RUNAWAY TRAIN, WON RYAN’S EXPRESS, and SILVER STREAK. It’s a lot of fun, and Tony Scott remains a master of the popcorn flick. Check it out.