By Mat DeKinder
Director Tony Scott is essentially a high-class version of Michael Bay. Now I’m fully aware that this backhanded compliment is akin to calling someone the prettiest girl at the dance when the only other girl to show up has a peg-leg, halitosis and a rocking case of the mange.
But Scott does deserve credit because his fun, workman -ike and often completely ridiculous popcorn flicks regularly attract a lot of prominent actors, including arguably one of the most consistent, talented and dependable movie stars of his generation, Denzel Washington.
Scott must have pictures of Denzel killing a hobo or something because it seems like there isn’t anything he can’t talk the venerable actor into, including two consecutive movies about trains.
Last year’s subway drama, “The Taking of Pelham 123” has been followed up by “Unstoppable,” a movie about a runaway freight train.
Washington plays train engineer Frank, a working class hero who gets reluctantly paired with hot-shot rookie Will (Captain Kirk redux Chris Pine) on the day a train with no one at the controls accidentally gets kicked into motion and goes hurtling through the countryside.
As you would expect, Will and Chris (along with a little help from Rosario Dawson as an exasperated rail commander who directs the proceedings from a control room) turn out to be the only chance to stop the runaway train, which just for kicks just happens to be carrying thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals.
There is a certain beauty of simplicity at work in “Unstoppable.” I am hard pressed to remember a movie that worked so hard and effectively to deliver on such a straightforward premise. Train goes fast, citizens are in peril, good guys try to stop it – that’s it.
There are no nefarious plots or sinister terrorists or killer robots to roll your eyes at, just some simple incompetence met by normal people who are willing and able to intervene, all at very high speeds.
“Unstoppable” is formulaic, improbable and highly entertaining. Events unspool in real time and if the sense of urgency wasn’t high enough Scott keeps the camera moving even when two characters are simply having a conversation.
During one sequence the camera orbits Washington’s head enough times to be technically classified as a satellite.
Pine is perfectly serviceable as a hunky man of action, but we have to give it up to Washington who could have very easily phoned in his performance, collected his paycheck and went about his way.
Instead he never takes a scene off in this silly little film, therefore making the whole thing better than it has any right to be.
In many ways “Unstoppable” is one of the easiest assignments of my career. This movie is Denzel Washington stopping a speeding train devoid of subtext, blunders and earth-shattering revelations about the human condition. It is precisely as entertaining as it sounds; no more, no less.
I’m going to have to remember to send Tony Scott a thank-you note on behalf of movie critics everywhere for going so easy on us.
“Unstoppable” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and peril, and some language.
▲ Mat DeKinder (firstname.lastname@example.org) was once described by a guy named Nate as the Jackie Moon of film critics. He appears courtesy of Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis.