Originally Reviewed – 11/23/2010
Before I start this review of the latest film from director Tony Scott, I need to spend a minute talking about my different ratings systems. In my opinion, different genres of film require a different level of critical analysis. Dramas are mainly judged on the story the director is trying to convey on screen, comedies are based on belly laughs and some films are evaluated simply on how much I would spend to own it. For example, the Social Network is worth buying the 40 disc special edition, Crank is worth keeping if your aunt gave it to you for Christmas and I wouldn’t buy The Expendables if it were on the five dollar rack at my local Walmart and I had that exact amount left on a gift card. Welcome to another of my methods of film evaluation, the Popcorn System.
Reserved mainly for action films, the system is simple. When seeing a movie in theaters, due to diet, money and a host of other reasons, I limit myself to one small popcorn. The film in question then gets judged on how much of the crunchy stuff is left in the bag. The more the film does its job in sweeping me away, the more compulsively I munch. Conversely, if the flick is boring me to tears, I’ll have enough presence of mind to leave the stuff alone, saving me a few calories. Unstoppable features more clichés than an episode of Friends, hammy characterization and passable acting yet, guess what. At the end, my popcorn bag contained only a smattering of un-popped kernels. Despite all the silliness of the thing, Unstoppable is an exciting and enjoyable flick worthy of checking out on the big screen.
For a film of this ilk, it’s almost a waste talking about directing and acting, but despite the obvious plot contrivances, Unstoppable actually succeeds on both points. Director Tony Scott knows exactly how to make a roller coaster style film, as evidenced in flicks like Enemy of the State, True Romance and even the critically maligned Top Gun. Despite a script that has a shotgun’s blast worth of plot holes in it, the film has enough kinetic energy in it to keep the audience involved. Tony Scott succeeds again in giving audiences many reasons to gasp, perched on the edges of their chairs, even if their brains can take a little nap.
On the acting front, Denzel Washington and Chris Pine seem like they are having genuine fun making this one, important when the dialogue is so laughably corny. The duo has fine on screen chemistry, making their journeyman / newbie relationship believable and engaging. While Denzel is fine, if not unspectacular as the twenty eight year railroad veteran, Pine continues to impress me as a Hollywood leading man. Charismatic with enough acting chops to get through a script, Pine should have a bright future as a marquee name. While the script doesn’t require much heavy lifting or soul searching, this is a well cast movie in almost every respect, even if the characters border on caricature.
Throughout the movie, there are multiple moments that are so dependant on contrivance that you can actually predict the line before they come out of the actor’s mouth. At one point in the film, I was literally saying the next line before Denzel did. This would actually be a fine drinking game, if you were to see this at home. In spite of this weary narrative, Unstoppable hits its marks exactly where you’d expect it to, providing some nice thrills at furious pace. Sure, none of it makes sense in the real world but sometimes, a film can live in a world of its own. In this world, where speed limits are suggestions and everyone has a back story, is where Unstoppable lives and for that space in time provides great visceral thrills that rank as some of the best in Tony Scott’s career. Besides, that empty greasy popcorn bag never tells a lie.
Score – 70%