One hundred tons of uncontrolled steel barrels down a track at 70 miles per hour. Anything unfortunate enough to get caught in the way is destined to be a pile of rubble — too bad not much does. Sure, there are some thrilling scenes in “Unstoppable,” but for the most part, the movie is a dull collection of shots of trains, barely held together by weak plot and characterization.
Train engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine), who squabble over personal issues, must work together to stop a train filled with cars of flammable, hazardous chemicals running through Pennsylvania from crashing.
“Unstoppable,” which is based on the real-life story of the “Crazy Eights” train incident in Ohio in 2001, feels underwhelming with its premise of a destructive train. Many of the movie’s gaps are filled with the same shots of trains moving through the countryside. And even though the shots themselves are crisp, the repetition is dull. The characters talk about the destructive potential of the train more than the train shows it. There is a spectacular and explosive train crash as part of a daring operation to regain control of the train, but there are less than a handful of other instances of destruction.
The heroes who try to save the day are similar, two-dimensional protagonists: hardworking family men. Even though the two are not supposed to get along, Frank and Will’s tension is weak as Frank just laughs at Will’s anger. They have back stories that hardly mean anything in the story as the protagonists spend the majority of the film in a train cab.
The writing seems desperate, adding unnecessary dramatic elements — kids on a field trip in the train’s path, wives and children who distance themselves from the heroes and greedy bosses who care more about money than risking lives to stop the train.
Frank and Will’s climactic attempt to finally stop the train is a redeeming action scene. The audience feels invested in the characters and concerned as they jump from car to car across the speeding locomotive. The scene of the undercarriage belching sparks and flames is also well-shot and suspenseful.
In the end, “Unstoppable” has its moments of action, excitement and destruction. But they are too infrequent in a movie that fills the rest of its time with weak characterization and drawn-out drama.
“Unstoppable” was written by Mark Bomback and directed by Tony Scott.