A blog about movies and filmmaking.

A Missile The Size Of The Chrysler Building | UNSTOPPABLE

In action on November 9, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I guess I should start by saying I’m a bit of a Scott brother’s apologist. I like their movies. Ridley is, and seemingly always will be the more well-respected of the two, but Tony is just as frenetically stylized as anything his brother does, and doesn’t tend to need 3 hour-long Director’s cuts to enjoy the movies. (Of which, I love in Ridley’s movies. I just wish they could be released that way and be good to begin with.) Tony Scott more than not, delivers a movie that’s immensely watchable and gives us at least one good, fun character to watch.

So, comes UNSTOPPABLE, the second in a now series of movies dealing with trains. Written by Mark Bomback (LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD), this movie is nearly all, what the climax to THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 was.  The first thing that surprised me about the movie is that it’s not some “terrorist plot” that sends the runaway train on it’s dangerous joyride. Instead it’s two bumbling fools, who are tasked with moving the train and disregard all safety protocols. So, right off the bat, my preconceived notions of what this movie would be was thrown off.

But not by much, the movie still falls into a pretty conventional structure of the “save the day” archetype. But it’s lots of fun getting there. 

The movie’s story sets a few balls in the air. There’s the runaway train aspect, which is the catalyst for everything else. But the other stories are of a group of kids taking a train to learn about train safety. Of course, there’s the story of our heroes; Will Colson (Chris Pine, STAR TREK) is having a bad first day on the job – and that’s before he finds out he’s standing in front of an out of control hunk of metal – his wife doesn’t like him; his brother seems to want to get rid of him; and his new partner, Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington, you know who he is), really doesn’t like him. See Will’s the new guy, and not only that, he comes from a family that runs the train company they work for. And he’s getting this job, despite a lot of the old timers – and Frank’s friends – getting the boot. So, Will has his work cut out for him.

The final part of the story, as there always has to be, is the control room section. In this scenario we’re treated to the lovely visage of Rosario Dawson and Kevin Corrigan (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS), who are the eyes and ears keeping Will and Frank in the loop while also having to deal with their corporate over-seers that have to run the costs on which solutions will be better for the company. They’re our exposition department, and audience equivalent, as all they really get to do is sit and watch everything that’s happening. While throwing some clever bon-mots in the mix.

The movie is fairly complicated. There’s technical details about trains, chemicals, switches and (having been a resident for a long time) strange geography titles of Pennsylvania, referencing where each train is and where it’s heading. (For what it’s worth, PA is a big state, too big to just call it north and south, as the movie does; especially since it’s mostly a horizontally lengthy area of land. So it was jarring when they kept showing “Northern PA” and “Southern PA” for the locations. But anyway.) But, in conventional Tony Scott fashion, the info flies at you so fast that you don’t really need to catch what they’re saying as long as you know it’s important.

The acting here is all top-notch, but nothing you don’t expect from any of these performers. Denzel gets to be the guy having fun just doing what he’s doing. Getting in over his head, but still not afraid to crack a joke. Chris Pine, shows not much range from his role as James Kirk – in fact the roles are pretty much the same, only without the transporting. The rest of the cast, from Ethan Suplee (MY NAME IS EARL), to Lew Temple, who actually gets to steal every scene he’s in. As he drives his big pickup truck with reckless abandon; calls Pine some bad names and in the end takes all the credit. They’re all great, but pretty much exactly the role you’ll expect them to be in when you see the name in the opening credits. Kevin Dunn, who would be the equivalent of the human antagonist of the movie, is guaranteed that role because here, he’s not playing the dad in TRANSFORMERS – but he gets a nice office overlooking the city of Pittsburgh (my hometown), which was nice to see. So, all that to say, the movie’s full of fun character actors that bring the movie to life.

The real fun here, though, is how this movie that literally takes place on rails; is so thrilling. (Well, duh) There’s something about the raw power of a speeding train, flying unmanned through a state. Unlike a runaway car or shopping cart, at any second of which, the drama would be over, because they can steer and go in any direction. A train, just keeps going. And the imagery of this train moving, and in a number of moments, overtaking the camera, makes it almost into a creature – a la JAWS coming to get you, or the sand-worm in BEETLEJUICE. It’s frightening and intimidating. But, awesome.

Overall, another solid, action movie from Tony Scott. I’d say it’s better than PELHAM 123 and DEJA VU; but not quite up to the standard of his better work – like MAN ON FIRE and THE LAST BOY SCOUT. Definitely worth seeing, as these trains are loud, and will rumble your seats.


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