James Helsby

LRE #35: Unstoppable

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Little Red Envelope

In my mailbox this week:

Release Year: 2010

Staring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee

‘Inspired by true events’; The open words of a film that I pretty much dismissed before having even seen it. Now, I have egg on my face. It was actually a lot of fun.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when this movie got pitched to the Hollywood execs. I think that it probably went something like this:

Pitcher: Ok. Here it is. Imagine this. It’s like Speed!
Exec: Hmm. But we already did Speed 2: Cruise Control.
Pitcher: No wait! It get’s better. Instead of being on a bus… they are on a TRAIN!
Exec: Keep going.
Pitcher: and and and… The bomb isn’t ON the train… the bomb IS THE TRAIN!
Exec: I like it. I like it, but it needs more.
Pitcher: uhh. And instead of the bomb going off if the bus drops below 50, the train is… Uh… Unmanned. A Runaway!
Exec: Still liking it. Keep going.
Pitcher: And… Uh… did I mention Denzel Washington?
Exec: Sold. Here’s a bagillion dollars.

The strange thing about this film, even though I run a parallel between it and Speed, it really is nothing like it. Where speed relied on action, this really wasn’t a very action-y film. I mean, sure there was a high-speed truck driving off in ‘hot pursuit’ but other than the train being a pending disaster, it plays out much more like a drama than anything else. There are a few explosions of completely unnecessary function, but basically the film seems more about a engineer and a conductor, and what they would do to save a town from a pending disaster.

The story follows two men moving a load of cargo from Stanton PA to some other location.Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) is the engineer, with 28 years of experience on his hands, Barnes is paired up with Rookie conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine). Colson, who is related to some big-wig/well-known-person within the train business is immediately put on the defensive for his youth and inexperience. But Barnes doesn’t really care. He is more concerned that the job gets done right, than the person who is doing it. An admiral quality to be sure.

When Dewey, (Ethan Suplee) starts to move a train, which doesn’t have its air-brakes hooked up, back at the train yard, his decision to leave the train and run up the tracks to the switching points ends up being a costly mistake. Dewey leaves the engine in idle, but the power is set to full. And as Dewey runs down the track, the idle setting slips and the train starts to take off onto an active line, without any pilot… or brakes.

Connie Hooper, (Rosario Dawson) the train yard master finds out and starts moving the pieces into place to get the train stopped. But when her man-on-the-road fails to meet up with the train at the calculated distance, they all realize to their dismay that the train is no longer under idle coasting power, but is instead hurtling down the line into oncoming traffic, at 70+ miles per hour. Straight towards a field trip of children, populated areas, and eventually a 15 mph max S-curve in Stanton PA, nestled right in the middle of a gas refinery.

The movie plays out with just one thing right after another. A series of near misses, and rapid pursuits that fail to lead to any major excitement. But while I was watching, I stopped paying attention to the action and started really focusing on the drama. Say what you will about the movie, Chris Pine and Denzel Washington delivery excellent performances. Pine, most notable for his portrayal of James Kirk in the new Star Trek Franchise, is really quite adept. During scenes when he is discussing why he has been between jobs and his wife having filed a restraining order against him, you can actually feel something for the character.

And Washington gives the same amazing performance that he always does. One thing you really can’t say about Denzel, is that he doesn’t know how to perform. From Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing, to Eli in The Book of Eli, Washington always brings his A game. Even to crappy movies (Virtuosity?)

But two characters bugged me a lot. Rosario Dawson, although energetic and high-strung, just doesn’t really seem to care about what is going on. Sure she says she cares, and is concerned for the people of Stanton and the rest, but he portrayal just doesn’t carry that feeling with it. It seem dry, and doesn’t really have the empathy that you would expect for someone who would likely be held accountable in the situation.

And then there is Ethan Suplee. I really don’t know what to say about him. He is always a dufus, in everything he does. From the moment that he showed up on screen, I knew that it would be ‘his fault.’ Has he ever done something where he wasn’t the looser, idiot, or incompetent? I don’t remember any.

If you are looking for an action movie, this is a pretty good one. But the great thing about it is that it isn’t too action-y. It’s got a story, and perhaps that is because it was based on a true story of the Crazy-Eights (CSX888 incident, Ohio 2001) when a train went uncontrollable after the same series of events.So it may just be that you can convince your significant other to watch the film because of the “Inspired by True Events” moniker.

But you know what, I really didn’t anticipate that I would like this film. Honestly, I completely panned it before I had even seen it. It just happened to be that I was really in the mood for an action flick right at the time that this arrived in the mailbox. So when I was able to sit down with the wife and watch it, we were both blown away with the fact that… It was actually good! Not like Star Wars good, or Indiana Jones, or even Speed, but it was still good. It is definitely worth watching, and as it carries only a PG13 rating for some minor language and action sequences, you can probably get away with showing it to your kids.

How painful was it:  Not quite ‘edge of your seat’ but still a pretty fun film.

Rating: 7/10. A lot like speed, but a little more believable. Well, with the exception of a few major holes.

The Wife’s Retort: That wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

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