More of a fun ride than a movie proper, Tony Scott’s Unstoppable makes no claims to subtlety, and is in many ways an even more radical disembowelment of the modern action flick genre than Scott’s jittery Taking of Pelham One Two Three (2009) remake – with which it shares a star, a style and (though this remains to be seen) probably a box office pull.
The premise of having one million tons worth of steel blindly speeding down the railroads of industrial Pennsylvania has an dumb impact of its own. Having cast Chris Pine – for whom the earthly mph must be something of a trifle after having experienced the warp speed in last year’s Star Trek (2009) – and Denzel Washington as the two barely-delineated but amiable buddy-leads doesn’t hurt either.
Unlike in Jan de Bont’s Speed (1994), the menace here is the speed itself, and not just any stock-psycho (be it Hopper, be it Travolta) spurting demands and/or prophecies into his phone (thus transforming the hair-raising action sequences into moral struggles between good and evil).
Now, a stray unmanned train speeding toward doom isn’t exactly tough to politicize, either. One can clearly see Scott sympathies lying with the blue-collar workers whose guts, hunch and experience save the day in spite of the big bosses’ failed attempts to act. (This working-class optimism is so clear-eyed and populist that we are never pushed too far to acknowledge the obvious guilt of Ethan Suplee’s slob-mechanic, whose very negligence triggered the whole event and resulted in a death of one person).
Still, the movie is so unashamedly mechanical and its mode such a willful assault of our senses, that after 100 minutes of Scott’s signature firecracker-zooming, compulsive fast cutting and non-stop flow of Harry Gregson-William’s throbbing score, one can end up too exhausted to fully partake in the closing on-screen elation of a feat spectacularly accomplished.