Movie Review: UNSTOPPABLE.

Posted: December 30, 2010 in Action., Badass Old Guys, Movies (U), Pretty Girls

Originally posted on Mapcidy:

Unstoppable is a movie I didn’t rush out to see, even with my admiration of Denzel Washington’s work and for many of director Tony Scott’s movies. There’s just something about it that seemed unexceptional – probably because the heyday of disaster movies seems to be behind us, let alone the concept of runaway trains. But Unstoppable is worth watching. It’s a solid genre exercise. It’s sturdy, workmanlike, almost quaint, but it gets the job done. It’s far more entertaining than it is silly. It’s well-acted (unsurprisingly). It’s a little bit moving and stirring (much more surprisingly). It’s still never going to be anyone’s favorite movie, but it’s one of the rare movies these days that attempts to create suspense and succeeds.

With movies of suspense, there’s the popcorn test: If a movie is suspenseful enough, you’ll put down your popcorn early on, and not notice you haven’t picked it back up until the movie is nearly over. Unstoppable passes.  Did with me, anyway. Trains are hardly the sexiest subject for a movie, for sure. But this is a true story (if embellished and sped-up), and a good story (it reminds us that there are heroes all around us every day).

One smart decision made at the script level and in Tony Scott’s execution is that the movie starts very small and steadily picks up speed; it eases the audience into the action, which makes the ancient runaway-train premise much more believable. When the initial mistake happens, that small but crucial mistake that kicks off the entire chain of events, it almost goes unnoticed at first. In fact, some of the trainyard employees audibly chuckle at the clumsy engineer responsible (My Name Is Earl’s Ethan Suplee, in a thankless role) – the way an audience might chuckle at the seriousness of the entire premise. Then the train picks up speed, and the stakes get higher, and Denzel gets involved, and at that point you know it’s time to get serious.

 

Unstoppable gives you just enough time to get to know and like its three main characters – Denzel as the jaded veteran and single father of two college-aged girls, Star Trek’s Chris Pine as the first-day conductor who’s contending with custody hearings, and Rosario Dawson as the railyard dispatcher who has to contend with multiple levels of bureaucracy and ineptitude – before hurling them all into the main action of the story. The suspense really works, due to a solidly-constructed story and on-point direction by Tony Scott, who minimizes his stylistic experiments this time around in favor of clarity.

Of course there are some silly moments. There’s some contrived bits and plenty of clichés. I like the moment where a trailer full of horses gets stuck on the tracks. There’s also a train full of schoolchildren, naturally. My favorite by far, though, is the fact that Denzel’s two daughters just happen to work at Hooters, so that once the runaway train gets on the news, the movie can cut to Hooters to see all the waitresses reacting to the shocking events on the TV screen. “Movie needs all the T&A it can get,” thought someone! (Personally I think Rosario Dawson brings all the grown-up sexy that a movie could need, but no one asked me.)

More obviously, you never once have to doubt that our heroes will succeed in stopping the train. The who, the how, and the when are kept up in the air just enough to be fun, but I don’t think anyone went into this movie expecting to see a train plowing into an orphanage. You know how it will end. The ride is the fun. Unstoppable ends on a very blatant deus-ex-machina, but then again, so was Roy Scheider shooting the gas tank in the shark’s mouth in Jaws. Once you’ve got an audience, you’ve got ‘em. Unstoppable does get ‘em.

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