With Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Dunn, Ethan Suplee. Directed by Tony Scott. Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and peril, and some language. 98 minutes.
There’s a scene in the 1966 “Batman” where Adam West is trying to remove an explosive device and everywhere he turns he’s blocked by nuns, by young lovers, even by baby ducklings. “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb,” he memorably complains. Watching UNSTOPPABLE is like taking that scene and expanding it into a feature length movie. In other words, this is dumb fun. You hate yourself for being engaged, but director Tony Scott makes sure that you’re not bored.
A train that is as long, so we’re told, as the Chrysler Building is tall, is barreling down the tracks in Pennsylvania without a single person on board. Don’t ask how it happened. Instead ask why this particular train is filled with toxic chemicals. Or, better yet, why heading towards it on the same track is a train full of schoolchildren there to learn about – wait for it – railway safety. Oh, and there’s a curve in the track down the line near a populated area that is almost certain to cause a derailment and a spill of all those chemicals. And there’s a truck with horses stuck on the track. Indeed, there’s everything in the train’s path except an adorable little kitten. Maybe that will be one of the extras on the DVD.
Not that any of the characters are anything more than mannequins on this amusement park ride, but there’s a decent cast here that manages to work the material. Denzel Washington plays a veteran trainman who has been laid off and has only a few days left to work. Will he be the equivalent of the cop in those action movies whose upcoming retirement party is an omen of doom? Then there’s Chris Pine, who played Captain Kirk in last year’s “Star Trek” reboot. He’s separated from his wife, he misses his kid, and apparently he’s a relatively new hire who had connections. Don’t worry about these details. The scriptwriter certainly didn’t.
While Washington and Pine are on another train that first has to avoid being hit by the runaway and then becomes instrumental in trying to take control, there are all these other people running around trying to figure out what to do. Rosario Dawson is the feisty railroad yard manager who not only isn’t going to take the blame for the incompetence of others, she’s also not going to be shunted aside by her boss (Kevin Dunn) who sees this as a job for upper management. His brilliant idea involves lowering someone from a helicopter onto a moving train topping 60 miles an hour. Don’t try this at home, kids.
Director Scott, who knows a thing or two about action movies – having directed Washington in “Man On Fire,” “Deja Vu” and “The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3” – keeps things moving at a steady clip. You may laugh at the ludicrousness of the proceedings, but you won’t want to miss what happens next. “Unstoppable” isn’t a very good movie, but it is a guilty pleasure. Check your brain at the door, pick up a bag of popcorn, and enjoy.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.