Unstoppable (2010)

Action flicks must be pretty easy to make, because the really successful ones follow a checklist that is as unvaried as Kathryn Heigl’s movie roles. First, you need two mismatched personalities who will bond and become best friends and not only save the day but also have some kind of personal epiphany that makes them better men. Then you need a crisis situation that has a specific amount of time before everything blows up, something like a runaway train full of toxic chemicals headed for populated area in Pennsylvania. A good villain is important, but may be substituted with a bad/stupid/cares only about money boss who makes decisions that are immediately discounted/disobeyed by underlings and proves what we knew all along; that we are smarter than our bosses. And that’s about it. There should be a few fiery car crashes along the journey and snappy patter is a given, but that is essentially the proven formula. I’m kind of surprised Hollywood even bothers with stuff like The King’s Speech – there wasn’t an explosion anywhere in that film.

Unstoppable took this checklist and ran with it like two guys on a train with no brakes. Denzel Washington plays the grizzled veteran who is weeks away from retirement when he is forced to pair up with new trainee Chris Pine, aka the most recent commander of the starship Enterprise. He makes a few dumb mistakes like adding too many cars to the train but no one cares because his laser blue eyes are so piercing that even Mr. Spock would have forgiven him. Chris Pine is the kind of pretty boy actor who always looks better after someone has roughed him up, because looking at him without bruises is too much like staring into the sun. He is bleary-eyed and unshaven during the film and even a little bloody toward the end, making it just a little hard to concentrate on his acting, which is a good thing. And speaking of rough, when did Denzel become old enough to be grizzled? It seems like he jumped from hero status directly into Danny Glover territory.

This movie is Based on True Events, so you don’t have to worry that it will end badly since as far as I know, Pennsylvania is still there. Apparently art really does imitate life, which is a shame for the real people this was based on because they speak in the most remarkably dumb and clichéd ways imaginable. I’m sure Hollywood didn’t come up with this dialogue – it was those hicks in PA.

But no one really cares about the script in a film like this. It’s all about the action and if the movie is called Unstoppable, it’s a pretty good bet that there is going to be some train movement, specifically some that doesn’t stop. Director Tony Scott isn’t content to focus on the seventy mile per hour rush of tons of metal – after all, this was the man who gave us the upside down plane loops in Top Gun. He has the camera revolve around the train as it speeds forward, creating an atmosphere of chaos, uncertainty and an effect a little like what happens when you ride the Gravitron at a carnival. Nothing good has ever come from riding the Gravitron, especially if you ate a corn dog before you went on it.

There’s also some stop action and color enhancement effects that are used to make the train seem more . . . exciting? It’s as if Scott didn’t believe that a dirty old train going really fast was going to be enough to keep the attention of the modern film goer. He was probably right. I wish he had included some cool nicknames, too, like in Top Gun. I’ve been trying for years now to get the people I work with to call me Maverick.

Because this was a train movie, it also contained the prerequisite scene where someone runs along the top of the train and jumps from car to car. (This is not on the action film checklist unless the film has a train in it.) I wonder if that is hard to do? No one ever seems to balk at it; in fact, Denzel seemed so confident it looked like he was playing hopscotch up there. I’m guessing he had it put in his contract as a way to pull some of the focus from Chris Pine, because if Chris had fallen while doing it, the ensuing bruises would have been enough to make the audience miss the rest of the film.

Barf Bag ranking: THREE BAGS It’s a movie about an unstoppable train – what did you expect?

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2 Comments

  1. Mmmmmm…I love me some Chris Pine. Can’t wait for the Star Trek sequel. No desire to see Unstoppable. BTW, I hear The Lincoln Lawyer has real jerky camerawork, though Matthew McConaughey mostly stays clothed. You should go see that and report back!

    • I will admit that after watching Unstoppable, I was seized with a desire to rent Star Trek again and watch it several times in a row. Maybe then I could figure out how Spock could be Zach Quinto and Leonard Nimoy in the same scene. I was too distracted by Capt. Kirk the first time to even care about a bunch of smelly old Vulcans.

      What would possibly be the point of seeing a Matthew McConaughey film where he mostly stays clothed?!


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