Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Unstoppable: Training Day

I made a train joke.

Somewhere out there, amongst the infinite possible alternate dimensions created by every tiny chaotic variation of the multiverse, there is a version of "Unstoppable" which stars Ethan Suplee and TJ Miller as two bumbling railyard attendants, one fat and stupid, one cocky and stupid, who have to chase after a runaway train carrying explosive chemicals that they set loose in a stupid parade of stupid stupidness. With hilarious consequences.

Unfortunately, this is not that universe, and the disaster-causing idiots are swiftly relegated to the sidelines of the film as some more "interesting" (better looking) people take control of the situation.

This is the new high-concept, low-logic smash-attack from Tony Scott and his muse Denzel Washington. Washington and little Captain Kirk play veteran and rookie train drivers, respectively, who are out on the tracks when idiocy sets a half-mile long train barrelling towards them and their hometown. Do you think Denzel and Kirk are gonna take any shit from an irate locomotive? Hell no! So they set out to run it down, hop aboard, stop the unstoppable train and save the day.

That's about it.

It's a typically concise film for Scott, minimal characterisation (Denzel is a struggling single father who has forgotten his daughter's birthday, Kirk is a young husband with jealousy issues and a strained relationship with his Mrs), fast-pacing hurrying us past the ludicrously contrived set-up (the train is loose! It's full of explosives! there's a train of school-kids on the track! And possibly a basket of kittens!), and frenetic editing and jittery camera-work to set your teeth on edge.

It's all handled in a perfectly workman-like manner, with Scott going through the motions, Denzel and James T. playing flawed everyman characters they could do in their sleep, and the plot unfolding in a familiar and predictable way.

There's a pretty railway controller type person on the other end of the radio (Rosario Dawson) and the typically clueless authority figures who are there to worry about how much a crash will cost and try to tell Kirk and Denz not to play the hero and all that. The obligatory 'sticking it to the man' scene is triumphantly amusing, however.

What keeps the movie afloat is the earthy star-power of Kirk and Denz, manly men both, finding a burgeoning chemistry from initially frosty interactions. They could both carry a film like this single-handed, but together they have an almost incandescent appeal.

The rest of the film is not up to their level, unfortunately, as Scott ploughs through a few fairly humdrum stunts and set pieces before wrapping it all up in a perfunctory and unspectacular climax. Let's just say the title is a complete misnomer.

The best thing about the whole affair is the fact that the train roars. In a "Duel"-style effort to suggest the beast in the machine, Scott has his sound designers dub grunts, growls and roars over the mechanical clattering of the train. It's like Thomas the Tank hulking out. I laughed a lot at this, but I'm easily amused.

Ultimately, its not really worth bothering with. It's another of the Scott/Denzel films that doesn't really serve any purpose and never properly kicks off the way "Man on Fire" did. It'll pass an hour and a half well enough as a rental or a tv-watch, but it's not really worth running to catch.

I made another train joke.


  1. It is "Speed" on rails with Denzel as Keanu and Pine as Bullock.

  2. I think Denz would have to be Bullock, as he's the driver. And at least they blew the bus up at the end of "Speed"!