While his brother Ridley gets most of the critical respect, Tony Scott has had a long career in cranking out popcorn flicks like Top Gun, Enemy of the State and True Romance. Like Martin Scorsese had Robert DeNiro and Leonardo Di Caprio and Tim Burton has Johnny Depp as repeated collaborative partners, Scott has teamed up with Denzel Washington five times in the past 15 years. After a gap of nearly a decade from their first collaboration, Crimson Tide, four of Scott's past five films have starred Washington: Man On Fire, Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 remake and their latest train trip, Unstoppable.
Co-starring Chris Pine (bka Captain Kirk from the Star Trek reboot), it's a simple - real simple - story of a runaway train. After fat, stupid (and typecast) Ethan Suplee lets a train loaded with explosive chemicals get away from him, it becomes a chase against time before the train hits a tight elevated curve near fuel storage tanks in Pine's hometown where his kid and estranged wife are. (Why not put an orphanage next to the tanks for giggles?) Denzel is 18 days from a forced retirement by the greedy bastard railroad company. Ya think he might die in the process? (They even remark on this trope near the end.)
While the scenario is novel and the execution slick as Scott keeps things chugging along at a breakneck clip (har!), Unstoppable is a disposable bit of fluff, beneath the talents of all involved. Never minding the unrealistic portrayal of everything like television news choppers supposedly whipping along at treetop level and the way they constantly restate what we already know via impossibly immediate computer simulations, where Unstoppable sort of goes of the tracks (har! 2X) is that the soap opera beats feel rote and despite a few cool crashes, the action never really takes off and flies. (Because it's trains, not planes. Duh.)
What is up with Denzel anyway? Has he decided that he's going to follow De Niro's career model of doing respectable, acclaimed acting in the early part of his career and then waste it all on "getting paid" parts in the back half? He was badass in the whackass The Book of Eli, but where's another Oscar-worthy performance? It also doesn't help that Jay Pharoah, a new featured player on SNL this year did a sketch as Denzel that NAILED all of his tics and mannerisms. It's so spot on, I've embedded the spoof of Unstoppable's spoof below instead of the usual trailer to do double-duty.
Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.