Spoiler alert: Stoppable.
Frank Barnes is a simple man with a simple life. He wakes up, clocks his hours, goes home. His world seems quite tedious. Thankfully, his two lovely daughters work at Hooters. After twenty-eight years of a monotonic freight transporting existence, he is being replaced for younger (and cheaper) blood. One of whom is Will Colson (Chris Pine): the relative of a union representative. His introduction to the elder statesmen is met with well-earned ire and scorn.
The problem arises from a common enemy: laziness. Dewey (an appropriate name if there ever was one) is an engineer who, in a way to save time, doesn't connect the air brakes between the lead and corresponding cars on a train he needs to move. Dewey sets the train's power to 100% in order to get the half-mile machine rolling. The locomotive is not on the right track, so against everything he is taught (yet, something that is needed for a gripping story) Dewey departs, gets himself locked out; the only thing he can do is watch his mistake leave unmanned on the main track. Dewey will soon be working in the fast-food industry.
The film takes place in various rail yards through Pennsylvania by the fictional Allegheny and West Virginia Railroad. The story, we are told, is based on a true events: a similar situation happened in Ohio in 2001. In the exaggerated film version, Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) leads the charge in stopping the mechanical runaway whose cargo cars are filled with extremely poisonous liquids. Her solution? Derailment, causing hundreds of gallons of venom to be spilled. It's okay though, because it would happen away from civilization, harming only the wildlife and our ecosystem. Thankfully, that plan is derailed (ahem), clearing the way for an equally cockamamie scheme: blasting away with shotguns at a safety switch--helpfully located right beside the fuel tanks.
Denzel Washington (Barnes) plays his usual maniacal self, laughing at almost every line of dialogue. He's won two Oscars though so we can forgive him. The not so funny thing is how Colson is allowed a job, regardless of his pedigree. He makes error after error, then responds harshly when it is brought up. Perhaps his behaviour can be attributed to his marital issues. For some reason, his wife won't talk to him and he is restrained from having contact with their son. Barnes and Colson's discourse is heated, spurred by their different periods in life. This is halted when they learn that they are heading straight for the runaway vessel. They steer away with moments to spare, then afterwards start pursuing in hopes of slowing its pace.
Unsurprisingly, director Tony Scott has woven another anarchical story; his trademark visual design and fast cutting is on full display here. I've enjoyed many of his efforts in the past: TRUE ROMANCE (1993), and MAN ON FIRE (2004) to name a few. On paper, UNSTOPPABLE seems like the perfect vehicle for Scott's recognizable style. The suspense is evident; there are certainly some impressive images throughout. Something doesn't sit right though. The automated antagonist is relentless, the action even more so. But, the faster everything went, the more witless it became.
If this film tells us anything, it's that saving lives by risking your own is a sure-fire way to get back in the good graces of your spouse. After the threat has subsided, Barnes can be seen chuckling again. He has made a new friend. I can picture them now, sitting around Hooters enjoying a nice meal, taking in the view.