Having barely got off the platform at Pelham alive, with fair-to-middling reviews and a relatively low take at the box office, it’s a bold move for director Tony Scott and his fifth-time muse Denzel Washington to head back to the tracks so soon.
But apart from the obvious similarities, Unstoppable has little in common with last-year’s hostage drama; instead, this train-on-the-run thriller is more of a Speed-on-rails, an adrenaline-pumper with more heavy metal than a night at Ozzfest.
Based on ‘true events’ (ie, trains do sometimes run away – but pretty much everything else is from the mind of Die Hard 4 writer Mark Bomback), Unstoppable rolls unfussily out in the rec room of a Pennsylvanian train yard.
Here, newbie Will Colson (Star Trek’s Chris Pine) is warily paired with old hand Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) to take out engine 1206.
Meanwhile, the half-mile-long 777 loco is unmanned, has no brakes and is heading for a city at 70mph with a cargo of explosive toxic materials. “We’re not just talking about a train, this is a missile the size of the Chrysler building!” implores controller Connie (a steely Rosario Dawson), but budgets, incompetence and convenient plot points render the situation officially out of control.
Scott, though, never lets the film go the same way. Where The Taking Of Pelham 123 steadily lost momentum, Unstoppable just keeps gaining it.
Inevitably, Barnes and Colson are the only ones who can possibly stop 777; of course, their initial mutual hostility softens into bromantic chemistry. Scott and his stars play out the formula taut and brisk.
Back stories are opened up without cramping the pace; there are even a few timely but unobtrusive asides on the recession’s effect on small towns and ageing workers. Unobtrusive, because Unstoppable doesn’t pretend to be about social commentary.
It’s about a giant hunk of metal thundering through densely populated areas while two men race against time to stop it causing a catastrophe. And in this, it’s a great success – an expansive, loud, riveting ride that’s mercifully light on conspicuous CGI.
Swooping and circling, Scott’s ever-mobile camera may induce moments of motion sickness. But it also puts you on top of, underneath, inside and smack bang in the middle of a high speed, high stakes super-chase.
Unstoppable does what it announces at the platform: hurtles you on a journey to blissfully brainless thrill-ville. Bombastic, cheesy, awesome, it’s Tony Scott back on his game.