An action thriller seriously devoid of action or thrills, the curiously sluggish Unstoppable is the slowest, talkiest movie you’ll ever see about a runaway freight train loaded with toxic chemicals.
Screenwriter Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard) loosely based his premise on a true incident: In 2001 an unmanned train carrying harmful dyes and paints thundered at full throttle through 66 miles of Ohio track before it was successfully stopped.
Director Tony Scott, toning down the seizure-inducing camera swirls and machine-gun edits of Domino and Man on Fire, focuses on three protagonists while recreating the scenario: Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington), a veteran train-yard worker with more than 20 years on the job; Will Colson (Chris Pine), a rookie whose newbie status earns him much mockery and many jabs, and Connie Hopper (Rosario Dawson), a train-traffic controller who oversees the various engines and track lines.
Washington and Pine are kept off-screen for large chunks of the first half of Unstoppable, their characters unaware of the unfolding crisis — or that their train happens to be headed for a collision with the run-amok juggernaut.
The actors get a lot more to do in the admittedly brisk second half of Unstoppable, but the filmmakers come up with a surprisingly small number of cliffhanger scenarios involving the speeding locomotive: 1985’s Runaway Train, although a dramatically different picture, did infinitely more exciting things with its premise.
Unstoppable picks up some speed as it hurtles toward its predictable conclusion, but the acceleration comes too late. No matter how many times Scott has his cameras circle his actors to lend the film a sense of barreling motion, you rarely feel as if this train has even left the station.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin Chapman.
Director: Tony Scott.
Writer: Mark Bomback.
Producer: Eric McLeod, Mimi Rogers, Tony Scott.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 98 minutes. Vulgar language. Opens Friday Nov. 12 at area theaters.