'Unstoppable': Scott and Washington return to the rails

Posted: Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Unstoppable" could very well be director Tony Scott's do-over. Over the years, his action flicks have ranged from the garden variety to the truly unique. After 2009's dismal remake of "The Taking of Pelham 123," he brings the suspense up a few notches with his latest release, "Unstoppable."

As in "Pelham," a train is a central plot device. And frequent collaborator Denzel Washington, who also starred in "Pelham," turns up again here, though as a very different character. Another difference: one movie's a whole lot more fun to watch than the other.

While the train in "Pelham" stood still, along with the dialogue, suspense and interest, the plot point of "Unstoppable" is all in the title. This train has accidentally been set into motion, leaving the station without anyone onboard to hit the brakes. A chase by authorities and, of course, everyman heroes ensues across Pennsylvania to catch the runaway before it collides with another train or derails off an impending curve in a big city. It should be noted here the train is carrying explosive chemicals, so derailing is a big no-no.

Of course, the railway companies devise ways to stop it, but since those plots came from official decisions, they're doomed to fail. So again, it comes down to regular folks to save the day. Washington is one of those folks, a veteran railroad engineer who can't just sit by and watch disaster loom without getting involved. With him is his new conductor ("Star Trek's" Chris Pine). When these guys get involved in saving the day, boy, do they get involved: racing the train backward, racing atop the speeding cars and racking up one close call after another. This makes a great way for the engineer to top off his career before forced retirement, and a hell of a kickoff for the younger man's new start.

If any of that sounds cliché, that's because it is. But this is cliché done well. When Scott is on his game, he can deliver a popcorn movie that keeps you interested. There's not too much of anything new you'll see here, so it can't be a great movie, but it doesn't have to be. It's fun enough. And you'll be cheering for the duo to get that machine stopped.

It should be noted that while Scott's never been one to shy away from bloated body counts, he knows that it's not called for in every fast-paced thriller he helms. Even though this is truly a dangerous situation and people are going to get hurt, there's nothing gratuitous to distract from the realistic aspects of the scenario.

Overall, "Unstoppable" brings Scott's action back up to mediocre status, maybe a shade or two higher. As far as giving viewers something worth their ticket prices, that's not bad.

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