On the Wrong Track
Unstoppable is the fifth collaboration between director Tony Scott and star Denzel Washington. For the love of all that is holy, will someone separate these two? I am sure for the friendship to have lasted this long they must get along great, but it just isn't worth it. Sitting in a crowded theater full of people waiting for something, anything to happen, all I could think was that at least Scott's Domino (2005) was an interesting failure.
Unstoppable begins with Will (Chris Pine) beginning his first day at the rail company. All of the older guys working there are being shoved aside for the cheaper salaried young dudes, but Frank (Washington) doesn't seem to hold it against Will. They take a train out, and before you know it, there is an unmanned locomotive loaded with deadly chemicals headed straight for them!
Well, not quite. First of all, all of the ads that show the school kids being threatened by the runaway train? That is resolved within ten minutes of the train being released. Secondly, for the majority of the running time this seems to be the slowest runaway train to ever have a major theatrical release built around it. Yes, by the end of the film it has reached speeds topping out at 70 mph, but for at least the first quarter of the film it seems to be going 35 mph, tops. Maybe the retrieval strategy should have included: have someone other than Ethan Suplee attempt to run down the train on foot. Literally everyone watching him attempt to jump onto the train during these scenes is in better shape.
A Mixed Bag
Speaking of Suplee, he is one of the few to come away from this film unscathed. His performance as Dewey, the employee responsible for abandoning the runaway train is believable, and he reminds everyone watching that he is capable of more than being typecast as Randy from My Name Is Earl. Kevin Corrigan (The Departed) is wonderful playing against type as Inspector Werner, for once showing up in a film in something other than a wifebeater and chewing a toothpick. Both Rosario Dawson (Clerks 2) and Kevin Dunn (Transformers) manage to pull out decent performances from insignificant roles, with Dawson playing the fretting supervisor and Dunn the evil VP who decides which town should be destroyed by chemical waste.
The problem occurs when the stars of the film can't offer you a reason to care what you are watching. Washington is basically playing Denzel Washington, as he has since at least Training Day (2001). He smiles when you expect him to smile, yells when you expect him to yell, and perhaps most damaging, disappears for large chunks of the film. Seriously, I may be exaggerating, but it feels as if Washington and Pine are only on screen for half of the running time of the film. And Pine should thank his deity of choice every waking moment for Star Trek. It will take ten years of Oscar caliber performances before I take him seriously as an actor after this abomination of a performance. No one was going to do much with this role, but who knows how much better the film may have been if the director had been working with a hungry actor opposite Washington, instead of a guy that is already the face of a franchise?
Do the Right Thing
Everyone has heard the old saying, "vote with your wallet." It basically means, if you don't like something, the only way to change it is to stop paying for it and the offending party will be forced to change. Scott-Washington is like the bickering couple that should have divorced once the kids left home, yet here they are, still yelling at each other at the grandkid's graduation party. When you go to the theater this weekend, do the right thing.