In the middle of the 2000s, director Tony Scott must have gone through a serious mid-life crisis, since his films transformed from slick action vehicles ("Top Gun," "Enemy of the State") into strange, double-exposed, borderline experimental visual exercises on mescaline. Those exhausting entries in Scott's flairy "cubist" period ("Man on Fire," "Domino") have been blessedly left behind for his new thriller entry "Unstoppable," and, after his excesses are peeled away, what we're left with is an old pro doing what he does best: SPEED.
Yes, this is one of those well-oiled cinematic machines with a simple enough premise of a runaway freight train carrying deadly chemicals (why is it never the train with Beanie Babies?) and two blue-collar railroad men who heroically risk their hides to stop it.
Those men are affably played by Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, and while the former plays up their age differences a little bit ("This ain't training. In training they just give you an F. Out here you get killed."), once the high stakes plot mechanics kick in most of that is abandoned as if to say, "You've seen that routine before, let's just cut to the chase."
As the two band together to come up with on-the-fly solutions to a literally escalating situation involving child endangerment and potential mass-death catastrophe if the steel monster derails in a populated area. They are aided by a capable dispatcher (Rosario Dawson) and often thwarted by a bigwig corporate honcho (Kevin Dunn) who's only interested in the bottom line, the bastard.
Scott keeps the set pieces rolling so fast, one after the other, to the point where he almost triple-dog-dares you to be bored by the frenetic ticking-clock show he's putting on. There's likable characters performing selfless acts of daring-do on a 70-mile-an-hour locomotive, what more do you want?
Washington delivers a solid, workmanlike performance, and though that sounds like faint-praise, there is something to be said for a star-director team like he and Scott in their fifth collaboration since "Crimson Tide." Their comfort level with this kind of material translates to the audience. You know they're going to deliver, and they do.
While mid-way through some visual fatigue begins to set in (how many ways can you film the inside of a conductor car?), this is a solid ride and a fun 90 minutes, all barely based on true events that happened in Ohio in 2001. The actual real-life story was way, way slower, to put it mildly.
Extras! See how they translated that true story into a way-less boring one with "Tracking the Story: Unstoppable Script Development," as well as commentary by Scott, "Derailed: Anatomy of a Scene," and other bonus feature cargo.