Unstoppable; R. 95 minutes; Carmike Cinema 6


After playing with fighter jets, race cars, submarines and subway trains in Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, respectively, director Tony Scott isn’t done hurling around huge, deadly vehicles. In Scott’s new action thriller Unstoppable, Denzel Washington, Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson contend with a combustible runaway freight train in rust-belt Pennsylvania.

Can a group of handsome people stop a train carrying toxic chemicals from crashing into a densely-populated area? Find out in Tony Scott’s new film, Unstoppable, which stars Chris Pine and Denzel Washington.

It’s hard to imagine a person coming out of this film feeling disappointed. Scott and writer Mark Bomback’s formula is basically standard elementary school word problem, by way of truck commercial, and it’s tickling to see how well it works. The characters are, of course, perfunctory. Washington plays a railyard veteran and widower whose two daughters (Elizabeth Mathis and Meagan Tandy) work at Hooters to pay for college. Pine’s the upstart, a callow conductor with dubious union connections and a restraining order against him from his own wife (Jessy Schram). Dawson is their yardmaster, evidently comfortable in a job that requires ritual slatherings of testosterone. She is also collected enough to say, “This kind of thing happens,” when a full-throttled train gets loose with no one aboard, and heads through the heartland for a populous city.

As problem-solving proceeds, there will be tension between the fellas. And with rising stakes, there will be bonding. They decide to take their own locomotive after the runaway, and Scott knows when it’s time to peel out, zoom in, suit up, throw down, and power on through.

Scott’s editing style tends to feel incoherent, but in this case it doesn’t matter. Figuring out what’s going on has never been easier. Has the train been stopped. No? O.K., you’re caught up. Scott is also cordial enough to provide a quick, need-to-know survey of social-strata fault lines, ranging from the tubby, lazy guy who’s responsible for the crisis (Ethan Suplee) to the faraway fatcat boss who doesn’t listen (Kevin Dunn). Plus the requisite obstacles: a train full of school kids approaching from the other direction, a horse trailer on the tracks, the mixed blessing of real-time Fox News coverage of our flawed blue-collar family men risking life and limb to rescue their community from impending catastrophe.

It is as if Scott once was a kid with a model train who thought, “It would be so awesome to smash and blow this stuff up,” and at long last is living that dream, telling everyone around him, “Yes, this is, as I expected, so awesome.” Granted, men of Scott’s generation, particularly Englishmen, may not seem normally inclined to say such things. Nor are they normally inclined to ventriloquize Middle America. But that hasn’t stopped him.