As fast-moving runaway train thrillers go, this rumbles.
It begins on an October morning in Fuller Yard in Wilkins, Pennsylvania. Locomotive #777, towing 39 cars loaded with 30,000 gallons of toxic chemicals, needs to be moved to a different track but when a slovenly, overweight, incompetent engineer (Ethan Suplee) neglects to secure the breaks, he accidentally launches a ‘coaster,’ much to the dismay of experienced traffic controller Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) and the corporate exec (Kevin Dunn) who are duly warned via a conference call that, if they derail the freight train, the negative publicity will lead to stock depreciation. Besides, Fox news helicopters are already circling overhead. Meanwhile, 200 miles away, veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington), facing forced retirement, and rookie conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine) are aboard #1206, heading directly towards the racing runaway which, if it isn’t stopped, is on a collision course that endangers the lives of 150 elementary-school children on a field trip from Olean, New York.
Based on a true 2001 incident in Ohio in which a 47-car freight train carrying hazardous chemicals traveled 66 miles in more than two hours without a crew, mounting speeds up to 46 miles an hour, it’s been jazzed up by screenwriter Mark Bomback, sketching in career motivations and marital backstories for both Barnes and Colson, while director Tony Scott’s credible camerawork evokes memories of Konchalovsky’s “Runaway Train” (1985), with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts as stowaways on a train careening through Alaska without an engineer. Indeed, the first movie ever released was “The Great Train Robbery” (1903).
Starring in five of his movies, including “Crimson Tide,” “Man on Fire” and “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” Denzel Washington is Tony Scott’s prime protagonist and Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) makes a fine sparring partner as they risk life and limb to halt the hurtling train that’s heading toward catastrophe at the bridge in Stanton.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Unstoppable” is an urgent, speeding 7, a 99-minute, action-packed thrill ride that’s filled with sparking metal.