Frequent collaborators Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott can either bring out the best (Crimson Tide) or the worst (Man on Fire) in each other, but in their new film together they’re both just coasting. Unstoppable finds Scott calming down his often hyperactive style but still cluttering up the screen unnecessarily, while Washington gives pretty much the same performance he gave in last year’s Scott/Washington joint The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Unstoppable even prominently features a train, just like Pelham did.
The train here is a behemoth of a freighter—full of highly volatile explosives—that, through a combination of errors and bad luck, ends up careening across Pennsylvania without an engineer or any brakes. The only person who can stop the train and save the day? Aw, shucks, it’s Washington as humble railroad veteran Frank Barnes, just an average guy who happens to be in the right place at the right time and know everything there is to know about trains.
Chris Pine is also on board as the trainee who steps up to help Frank bring the train to a halt, and both actors do intense concentration pretty well. When the movie is careening forward like the train, not stopping for forced character development or weak social commentary, it’s decent mindless excitement. But Scott constantly interrupts the action with news reporters who narrate the story like play-by-play announcers. Maybe if he had stepped out of the driver’s seat and sent the movie barreling ahead on its own, it would have been explosively entertaining instead of just cruising to a stop.