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Friday, November 12,2010

Train-ing day

Unsubtle 'Unstoppable' delivers loud, flashy suspense

by James Sanford

(Friday, Nov. 12) Swoop! Swooosh! Swirl!


Denzel Washington and Chris Pine may be the stars of “Unstoppable,” but
it’s cinematographer Ben Seresin who gets the most taxing workout. Even
when characters are simply standing around or engaged in tense
conversations, the camera behaves like a first-grader that’s been
force-fed Pixy Stix and Monster Energy Drinks. It circles, it spirals,
it bobs and weaves: It’s as if poor Seresin spent his days strapped to a
carousel from hell.

Not since the horrific heyday of director Brian DePalma (“Carrie,”
“Dressed to Kill”) has there been this much dizzying photography. But
that’s about the only unexpected element of “Unstoppable,” which is
otherwise about as complex as “The Little Engine That Could.”


As in a “Screenwriting for Beginners” workshop, the characters in Mark
Bomback’s story can be handily described in three adjectives apiece.
Engineer Frank (Washington) is seasoned, hard-working and wistful,
partly because he can see forced retirement a-comin’ down the tracks and
mostly because he hasn’t been able to give his daughters the attention
they deserved. New guy Will (Pine) is defensive, troubled and driven.
Yard master Connie (Rosario Dawson) is strong-willed, capable and
frustrated at having to deal with corporate customs in the face of a
crisis.


A crisis? Ah, yes, indeedy. There’s a runaway train rumbling through the
backwoods and blue-collar towns of eastern Pennsylvania. That would be
trouble enough but, as we are reminded on multiple occasions, this
particular choo-choo is “a missile the size of the Chrysler Building,”
full of “30,000 gallons of toxic chemicals” that could turn the Keystone
State into the Tombstone State if the train derails.


But first, a word from our sponsor: Frank’s nubile daughters both happen
to work at Hooters, which receives, shall we say, prominent promotional
placement throughout the film. How scary is the potential peril from
the wayward train? So scary that the Hooters hotties forget to do their
required hula-hooping because they’re too absorbed in the TV coverage.
Nails are bitten, hands are wrung and gratuitous jiggling is postponed.


With assistance from Connie, Frank and Will risk life and limb to shut
down the time-bomb train; meanwhile, the snappily dressed clowns who run
the company play golf and make dim-witted decisions driven by fears of a
sinking stock price. In a not-so-subtle manner, “Unstoppable” taps into
the fury of the working class and the perceptions that a lot of good
people are going to fall into the ever-widening gap between America’s
beleaguered middle class and the supremely selfish ultra-richies who can
always float out of harm’s way on their golden parachutes when times
get tough.


Oddly, however, the person responsible for the dilemma is as
un-aristocratic as they come: It’s Dewey (Ethan Suplee), a portly,
easily distracted dope who forgot to do his job properly because he was
daydreaming about the lunch specials at Subway. No, really — despite its
rage at the class system, the moral of “Unstoppable” seems to be “don’t
hire overweight people, because ‘fat’ is only a few letters away from
‘fatuous.’”


Aside from its peculiar politics, “Unstoppable” is a passable
race-against-the-clock thriller, with several impressive stunts, an
agreeable amount of fraternal friction between Will and Frank and enough
amplified engine sounds to set your teeth rattling. Director Tony Scott
may not have blessed with the artistic eye of his brother Ridley, but
after “Man on Fire,” “Deja Vu” and “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” he’s
definitely up to speed on tense, hyperactive action flicks. Although
“Unstoppable” is not particularly memorable, it achieves its modest
goals of providing 100 minutes of suspense and several hours’ worth of
post-screening ocular whiplash.

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