Trains and brains may rhyme, but both are in short supply in this movie about a locomotive that takes off without a driver. Dewey (Ethan Suplee) is the dolt who insists he doesn’t need to connect the air brakes just moments before he hops out of a moving cab to throw a switch. Not able to run any faster than he can think, his engine and its half-mile of cars are soon heading down the track without him. Even more surprising, his coworkers just laugh at the situation. When Dewey eventually finds the yardmaster (Rosario Dawson), he admits his mistake like a schoolboy who has cheated on a test, leaving Connie to figure out how best to cope with what is now described as "a missile the size of the Chrysler building."
Meanwhile at the other end of the line, veteran engineer Frank
(Denzel Washington) and his rookie conductor Will (Chris Pine) have
just pulled out with their load. And guess what? They are headed
straight for the runaway. About the only thing more you could add to
this already tense situation is a school field trip, tanker cars of
hazardous chemicals and a small city with a big curving railroad bridge
that can only be navigated at 15 MPH. Yup… they are all part of this
If you come into this film expecting only exciting pictures of a
train on the lamb and a passel of railroad workers wondering how they
will stop it, then you may not be disappointed. However, being a big
rail fan myself, I was hoping for a little more to get stoked over in
this great locomotive chase. Pardon the inevitable pun, but this truly
is a one-track script. Character development is virtually non-existent,
with the exception of Frank and Will taking a few sideline moments to
discuss marriage woes.
Then there is the critical lack of intelligence that overshadows
much of what is on screen. Early in the movie, after being informed
there is a train barreling toward him, Frank asks the obvious question:
"Where is it?" Connie replies they don’t know. Yet Fox News (which is
promoted to the point of saturation in this film that features dozens
of fake embedded reports) has a helicopter tracking the locomotive with
a live video feed. Too bad the yardmaster didn’t look at the huge TV in
her control room. Later, when Connie finally is watching the
news, she sees one of the company heroes madly driving his truck beside
the speeding engine in an attempt to make a daring rescue. Shrieking,
she gives this poor sap a call, forcing him to answer his cell phone
while trying to pull off the difficult maneuver.
Along with the many moments of peril, an accidental injury with some
blood effects is depicted. We also learn that railroad employees can
swear up a storm because we are treated to a boxcar load of moderate
and mild profanities, terms of deity and a sexual expletive.
Loosely based on an actual event from 2001, Unstoppable is a
fast-paced, frenetic film with many hand-held camera shots that often
tries too hard to convince us that a million tons of steel running out
of control is a serious matter. For parents of older teens who are
willing to tolerate the language and ignore the plot holes, this train
may barely make the grade.