★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Rated PG13/98 min.
In the years since Speed, the Keanu Reeves bomb-on-a-bus thriller has been recycled in numerous uninspired knock-offs. There was Speed in an ice cream truck (Chill Factor) and Speed on an ocean liner (the infamous Speed 2: Cruise Control) and now we have Speed on a train. Unstoppable features two magnetic stars—Denzel Washington and Chris Pine—but the train out-acts them both and is the most compelling thing in the movie.
The flimsy, seen-it-before plot (supposedly based on a true story) has an old-timer locomotive conductor (Washington) training a rookie (Pine) whose first day on the job is ho-hum, until a train with no brakes, no conductor and a container of explosives threatens to derail and obliterate a town. Our stubborn heroes, who initially hate each other, must learn to work together and are somehow the only men on the planet qualified to save the day.
If you’re here for the action, you’ll have a decent time, but the leads aren’t well matched and the script gives them little to do. Washington is too good for this movie and Pine, terrific as Kirk in the recent Star Trek prequel, is too green to hold his own with Denzel. Their scenes offer mild bickering and eventual respect—and that’s it. Rosario Dawson plays Washington’s on-edge boss, but she’s stuck in a thankless role consisting of nothing but “we’ve got a problem!” plot exposition. Dawson, like her co-stars, deserves much better.
Only near the very end do we get any sense of the speed of the train. Director Tony Scott once again films everything from shaky, overly stylized angles and it’s not until the actors leave the conductor’s compartment and climb around the train that we experience how fast it’s moving. And the exciting climax over-utilizes the star’s stunt doubles, who work harder during the latter part of the movie than either Washington or Pine.
Scott gave us Top Gun and True Romance among many other solid-to-iconic films, and is one of the pioneers of the slick, MTV-style of movie-making. I want to defend him, because I grew up on his stuff, but how can I, when he put two of the most charismatic actors alive in the same movie and only the ’splosions hold your interest? I’ve seen episodes of Thomas and the Magic Railroad that were edgier and more original.
Speed had the heart, humor and jaw-dropping action to make it a genre classic; this has an out-of-control train with nowhere to go. ■
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