November 13, 2010

MOVIES: Unstoppable (Tony Scott, 2010)

Unstoppable is a runaway train movie, so you know a lot of what will happen going in. You know that some dimwitted employee will make a mistake that sends a train down the tracks at full speed with no crew on board. You know that the train will be carrying toxic chemicals, not to mention highly flammable diesel fuel. You know that somewhere down the tracks is a small town, both adorably quaint and densely populated, and that as the tracks pass through that town, they curve so sharply that the train cannot possibly avoid derailing. And you know that before the movie ends, someone will have to run across the top of the train, leaping from car to car in one last desperate attempt to avoid disaster.

And yet, predictable as the thing is, damned if Unstoppable doesn't work as an entertainingly stupid thrill ride. None of the cast is called on to do any actual acting here, but everyone plays their cliche precisely and with great enthusiasm. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine are the veteran engineer and the rookie conductor who must save the day; Kevin Dunn is the venal railroad executive; Ethan Suplee is the dimwit who starts everything in motion; and Rosario Dawson is the dispatcher whose role consists of looking worried and talking into the radio: "Are you sure this is going to work, Frank?"

The stunts and effects are effective, and director Tony Scott knows just when to cut the tension with a dumb laugh or a mild tug at the heartstrings. Unstoppable is utterly forgettable entertainment, but it has no pretensions of being anything more, and on that level, it's entirely effective.

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