Tony Scott, the younger, cheekier brother of glum historical recreations enthusiast Ridley, has made the same action film over and over again for decades. The characters, plot and budgets change, sure, but the pace of the direction, which clearly shows Scott’s background as an ad director, makes for a breathless experience, even if the only thing happening onscreen is someone changing a toilet roll or making tiramisu. His style retains the pomp of the 1980s, back when Top Gun was king, Tom Cruise wore a mask of youth over his insanity and nary a suit jacket sleeve was extended to its correct position. Unstoppable, his latest venture, slots neatly into his oeuvre with a soundtrack that is the filmic equivalent of tense muzak and a paint by numbers plot which has audiences cheering for the little guy who can’t manage his family life but will be damned if he’s going to let a heroic and conveniently redemptive action go undone on his watch.
In this case the little man is actually two little men; anonymous hunk Chris Pine as rooky railway engineer Will Colson and ubiquitous know-it-all Denzel Washington. The former is relatively fresh from train school and earns the scorn of the other men because he is seen to have gained his position as a result of family connections and union membership. Marital problems also dog him, although when I discovered the reason for his occasional phone calls about legal issues I was a little less inclined to feel sympathy for him. The latter is an old rail dog who schools his greenhorn companion by belligerently letting him make mistakes and then pointing them out unhelpfully. Like he did in Training Day. And probably all of those sports movies he’s been in.
This unoriginal odd couple bicker a bit but are united when it turns out a runaway train is on the loose and headed right for them, carrying gallons of explosive chemicals through populated areas and threatening the town of Stanton at the end of the line. The corporate types fluff a few attempts to solve the issue and so the pair take the rescue of vast amounts of property into their own hands.
Unstoppable is big, loud, blustering but ultimately loveable, like flop-haired toff icon Boris Johnson. The execution of its ‘Speed on rails’ premise is technically solid, with seemingly little CGI used when good old-fashioned pyrotechnics will suffice. Relating to the characters and swallowing its fairly obvious story is a little harder, perhaps because the exaggerations of the real-life events upon which this is based takes some of the believability out of it in favour of intensity and excitement. Watching Unstoppable is a little like being repeatedly punched in the mouth with a Mars bar; you’ll be glad when it’s over, but the experience is sweet if lacking in nourishment.