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By Neil Pond
For American Profile
Many a little boy had a model train as a toy. Millions of children have grown up on the tales of Thomas the Tank Engine, a friendly, helpful little locomotive.
The train in âUnstoppable,â the new action vehicle from director Tony Scott, is no plaything.
It is, as one character describes, âa missile the size of the Chrysler Building.â Itâs out of control, and unmanned. Itâs carrying a payload of highly flammable materials. And itâs capable of pulverizing anything in its path.
This is one cataclysmic choo-choo.
What can stop it? Who can harness this rampaging steel stallion and avert a disaster?
The smart moneyâs on Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.
Washington plays Frank, a veteran railroad engineer facing early forced retirement. Pine is Will, his younger rookie partner out to prove he didnât get his spot because of his familyâs union connections.
Based on a real incident, âUnstoppableâ adds a number of dramatic elements and embellishments but remains faithful to the factual framework. In 2001, a train in Ohio did manage to pull out of the rail yard without an engineer, a conductor or anyone else on board. It was carrying more than 40 cars of toxic, combustible substances. Before a railroad worker was able jump aboard and apply the brakes, it cruised along for more than 60 mostly uneventful miles.
The movie tosses a few âeventfulâ possibilities into the trainâs 70-miles-an-hour path, including another train on the same track, headed in the opposite direction...and carrying a group of school kids on a âtrain safetyâ field trip.
Washington and director Scott worked together on another hell-on-rails drama last year, âThe Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.â Pine caught the spotlight in 2009 as Captain Kirk in the big-budget movie remake of âStar Trek.â
We learn just enough about their characters in âUnstoppableâ to make us care about what happens to them, but not enough that the plot ever become overladen with personal details. Rosario Dawson is strong as a traffic manager who puts her job on the line to defy the smarmy execs worried about what an explosive derailment will do to the railroad companyâs stock.
Thunderous, metallic, ominous, screeching sound effects add to the sensory perception that youâre watching a megaton monster barreling toward a dramatic showdown. But the camera treats everything like an itch that needs scratching. Itâs forever sweeping, swooping, panning, hovering and zooming, giving even passive, âstationaryâ scenes an element of vertiginous motion that quickly becomes quite distracting. It may take you several minutes after the movieâs finished to feel like the ride is finally over.
If youâre looking for plot nuance, character development, social significance or moral-ethical lessons, âUnstoppableâ probably isnât your movie. But if youâre in the mood for some straight-ahead, pedal-to-the-metal, nail-biting actionâŠall aboard!