Director    Tony Scott
Starring    Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson
Release    24 NOV (UK)    Certificate 12A
2 stars


23rd November 2010

If new juggernaut Train A leaves the yard on full throttle carrying explosive chemicals, and tough old Train B leaves from the opposite end of the track carrying Malcolm X and Captain Kirk, how long before we start to take any of this seriously? This is the question posed by Tony Scott's Trainstopping, and the answer is: we can't. It's all just too damn silly.

From the opening text, "Inspired by actual events" (they really should have italicised 'Inspired' for extra emphasis), Unstoppable presents a series of laughable scenarios that make this fast-paced thriller enjoyable for all the wrong reasons. First we have bumbling idiots Ethan Suplee and TJ Miller who are the almost-comedy Dumb and Dumberer that lose control of The Train That Couldn't Slow Down and thereafter the film throws up a procession of obstacles and badly-timed coincidences that are all designed to increase momentum and ramp up the stakes to OTT levels. All this, and Denzel Washington's unappreciated employee Frank Barnes and Chris Pine's hot-headed, first-day-on-the-job Will Colson have decided to 'do the right thing' and chase after the sucker before it ploughs into a populated town.

[gallery]In this post-Matrix, and now post-Inception, era of cinema where films can be so wonderfully complex that they deal with the very fabric of reality itself, Scott is surely punching below his weight here with this one-plot, one mission movie about one-dimensional characters trying to stop a runaway train. And it's not that simplicity in a film is a bad thing, it's just that Unstoppable seems to take its cue from a bad action flick from the 90s, with ridiculous plot points and sketchily tagged-on character back stories. All of this isn't necessarily so terrible for what is supposed to be just a fun 'high-octane' (ugh) flick, except for the fact that it takes itself so woefully seriously - like it's a Vin Diesel actioner pretending desperately to be a Michael Mann thriller.

To make things worse, screenwriter Mark Bomback (the production notes tell me he did 'uncredited rewrites' for Constantine) choo-choo-chooses to pad out the singular plot with a constant barrage of clich├ęs that are these days usually reserved for spoofs. How seriously can we really take the angry shouty boss of the train company who yells down the phone at his employers to do what he says or they'll all get "shitcanned"? And, as the action tropes of the film give way to disaster movie overtones, how can we not roll our eyes at the sight of a roomful of technical engineers whooping and cheering at an office monitor after Frank and Will avert another potential crash?

None of this is to say, however, that there isn't some gratification to be had here. After spending most of the film weaving a poorly written script into some semblance of story, Tony Scott does actually deliver a tense, edge-of-your-seat third act. And by this time, of course, Denzel has typically impressed with his flair for playing a world weary, morally righteous character, delivering chummy banter with a charm that just about lifts this film out of it's otherwise straight-to-DVD trappings. The best bits of the film, however, are those that cause unintentional LOLs - one of my favourite scenes of any film released this year comes when Chris Pine says straight-faced "We're gonna run this bitch down!".

Overall then, this is a sadly shallow movie that, despite a couple of sparks of genuine quality, gets completely derailed by an overly contrived script and an insistence on hackneyed dramatic devices. There is a great deal of pleasure to be had in watching this film, but it all stems from the fact that it just doesn't realise how utterly absurd it is.

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