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Movie Review: 'Unstoppable' builds up the pace but loses steam

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Directed by
: Tony Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Dunn, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Corrigan
Rated: PG-13

Much in the same way the recent film “Due Date” brought to mind “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” director Tony Scott's latest thriller about a runaway train, brings to mind Andrey Konchalovskiy's 1985 movie “Runaway Train.

Actually, this film is a bit different from the 1985 movie. The guys on board of all of these trains are good guys. But there's a bad guy, too.

Most of Scott's best known work - “Top Gun,” “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “True Romance”- has been heavy on pulse-pounding action and over-the-top cinematography.

He's done one softer, more subtle but still engaging piece, “The Hunger.” It's a dream-like vampire tale starring David Bowie and features a memorable - erotic without being lewd - love scene with co-stars Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon.

Other than that, though, Scott's oeuvre is mostly action, action, action.

“Unstoppable” is going to further that reputation. There's little breathing room beginning from the first frame, and the jarring camera work and extremely loud soundtrack add to the whole dizzying effect.

It made me think, “This would be a great drive-in movie!” That's high praise in some quarters.

Besides borrowing heavily from “Runaway Train,” veteran Scott uses elements from the Buster Keaton silent classic “The General” and even from his own remake of “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” which also starred Denzel Washington.

The set-up in “Unstoppable” is a textbook example of a “set-up.”

An engineer (played by Ethan Suplee) dismounts his freight train thinking he has shut it down and applied the brakes. A series of accidents and missteps we've already seen let us know that there are a few loose ends that haven't been tied.

The train, which is hauling several cars filled with toxic and flammable chemicals (no other scenario would work in this kind of movie), starts to roll. It's scary, but not all that much to worry about, because the engineer and the people in the freight yard control room assume it's merely a coaster and will be easy to divert onto a side track.

Obviously, if that was the case, the film would never have been made.

The unmanned train is in full throttle mode, picking up speed and heading straight for a highly populated area.

A classic pair of “odd buddies” (think Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the “Lethal Weapon” series) are in another train heading in the runaway's direction.

Veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) is breaking in new conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine). They are oil and water. Their relationship is the main one in “Unstoppable,” but there are many subplots with other characters.

Dispatcher Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) realizes that things are getting out of control. Her adversary is train company executive Galvin (Kevin Dunn), whose only concern is how much it's going to cost if the train wrecks, loses its cargo and is the impetus for a lengthy string of lawsuits.

There are also back stories of Will's troubles with his estranged wife and Frank's love for his two daughters.

Once the train gets really going, Scott proves his mettle. The sense he gives the audience of the mass, the sound, the technology and the sheer physics of what it takes for a train to operate creates quite the interesting cinematic antagonist.

“Unstoppable” is another film billed as "inspired by true events." It was the May 15, 2001, incident involving a CSX runaway that covered nearly 70 miles through Ohio.

The train was finally stopped in the same sort of way that happens in “Unstoppable,” but it seems to have been much less dramatic.

That's easy for all of us, who weren't involved, to say.

Scott builds the film to match the mood. It just keeps moving faster and more out of control every minute.

“Unstoppable” is not a great film, but it's one that comes at a perfect time.

You're not going to fall asleep watching it, even if you don't like it. The relentless action and adrenaline-inducing structure of it might be just what you need after the lethargy most people suffer following the Thanksgiving food glut.[[In-content Ad]]


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