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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 â€śUnstoppable,â€ť the new action vehicle from director Tony Scott, is no plaything.
It is, as one character describes, â€śa missile the size of the Chrysler Building.â€ť Itâ€™s out of control, and unmanned. Itâ€™s carrying a payload of highly flammable materials. And itâ€™s 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 moneyâ€™s 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 didnâ€™t get his spot because of his familyâ€™s union connections.
Based on a real incident, â€śUnstoppableâ€ť 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 â€śeventfulâ€ť possibilities into the trainâ€™s 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 â€śtrain safetyâ€ť field trip.
Washington and director Scott worked together on another hell-on-rails drama last year, â€śThe Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.â€ť Pine caught the spotlight in 2009 as Captain Kirk in the big-budget movie remake of â€śStar Trek.â€ť
We learn just enough about their characters in â€śUnstoppableâ€ť 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 companyâ€™s stock.
Thunderous, metallic, ominous, screeching sound effects add to the sensory perception that youâ€™re watching a megaton monster barreling toward a dramatic showdown. But the camera treats everything like an itch that needs scratching. Itâ€™s forever sweeping, swooping, panning, hovering and zooming, giving even passive, â€śstationaryâ€ť scenes an element of vertiginous motion that quickly becomes quite distracting. It may take you several minutes after the movieâ€™s finished to feel like the ride is finally over.
If youâ€™re looking for plot nuance, character development, social significance or moral-ethical lessons, â€śUnstoppableâ€ť probably isnâ€™t your movie. But if youâ€™re in the mood for some straight-ahead, pedal-to-the-metal, nail-biting actionâ€¦all aboard!