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Directed by Tony Scott
Rated PG-13

Unstoppable is a story of great Americans surmounting the unsurmountable. It's also a great idea for a Tony Scott movie. But putting the two together is like asking for a train wreck.

Penn Station


Unstoppable and movies of its ilk can be a disheartening experience. They feature a fantastic, top-notch cast and lotsa, lotsa money is spent on the film, but the end result comes up wanting thanks to cargo loads of trite, generic plug-and-play scenes that make no sense whatsoever, all wrapped around a nugget from a true incident.

In this case, the cast includes Denzel Washington (Inside Man), Chris Pine (Star Trek), and Rosario Dawson (Sin City); the moolah totaled in the neighborhood of $100 million; and the end game is a glitzy, dumbed-down Hollywood take on a train that ran away several years back, all gussied up with every permutation and contrivance under the sun.

The tagline used to promote Unstoppable, "inspired by true events," is a liberally spun linguistic twist on the old tried-and-true "based on a true story." It immediately makes its basis in reality sound disingenuous. It's kind of like the occasional album release that gets marketed as a collection of songs "inspired by the motion picture."

Movie and reality. Movie and music. Never the twain shall meet.

Domino Effect

Unstoppable plays out like an old Airport movie. Things pile on to an absurd degree.

Here's a laundry list of the movie's ingredients and calamities; it should by no means be construed as all-inclusive:

  • An out-of-shape dork breaks protocol and leaves the train cab while the train is in motion in order to flip a track switch.
  • As numerous cut scenes indicate, the air brakes weren't tied.
  • The train takes off, a lumbering, runaway giant.
  • A train full of schoolchildren on a field trip is on a collision course with the runaway train. (All together now: "No! Not the children!")
  • It just so happens a federal safety inspector is on hand at the train command center for a presentation to the school kids.
  • The train, in fact, is "a missile the size of the Chrysler building." It's full of fuel and hazardous materials; one car load could decimate a town. This train has eight such cars.
  • A guy driving a truck is distracted because he's flipping through radio stations. He crashes into another truck at a rail crossing.
  • That second truck was towing a trailer full of horses, which winds up directly on top of the tracks. (All together now: "No! Not the horses!")
  • The train's a-comin'!
  • By the way, the climax includes a big ol' cheat to amp up the drama.

Yes. This is perfect Tony Scott material. Police cars chase after the train, racing through precarious rural terrain alongside the train tracks. And if police cars are involved that means there's gotta be a roll over or two. And blaring sirens. Ambulances scurry, helicopters fly, men dangle from said helicopters, and loads of people that should be busy evacuating the towns, villages, and hamlets of southern Pennsylvania instead stand right at the side of the tracks, babies, cell phones, and camcorders in hand, to document their doom and put it on Facebook.

All of this is accompanied by loads of Fox News coverage (this is a Twentieth Century Fox movie, after all) and a Harry Gregson-Williams score which was clearly "inspired by" Hans Zimmer's music in The Dark Knight.

American Heroes

Amid all the nonsense there's an attempt to humanize the two leads.

Frank (Washington) is a good man whose wife died of cancer and who's a single father of two college-age daughters. Will (Pine) is on the outs with his wife, who's issued a restraining order against him after he apparently pulled a gun on a police officer during a misunderstanding about some text messages. Will has an infant son.

On the work front, the train company is laying off the older workers, like Frank, and hiring younger, cheaper replacements, like Will.

The big question being debated in the board room of the train company is whether to absorb a $100 million projected cost or a 30-40% stock devaluation.

Wait a minute. Maybe that's not humanizing. Maybe all of this should simply be tacked on to the list of "pile on" elements.

In the end, after everything's been thrown into the wash, Unstoppable aspires to be a proud-to-be-an-American movie, one that acknowledges while some people are stupid as rocks others are mighty smart and heroic.

It's a shame about the dopey ride taken to get to that message.

• Originally published at

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