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 Denzel Washington in familiar role as hero who saves the day


By Kam Williams / Critic

(Nov. 15, 2010) — Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) is winding down a 28-year career riding the rails with the Allegheny and West Virginia Railroad (AWVR). Despite the lack of a blemish on his sterling record, the veteran engineer’s being forced by the company to take an early retirement in a cost-cutting measure set to take effect in just a couple of weeks.

To add insult to injury, Frank finds himself partnered with Will Colson (Chris Pine), a young conductor who’s recently been hired because of his union connections. It is therefore understandable that there might be some tension in the air when, because of the rookie’s mistake, they end up leaving the train yard pulling a few more freight cars than intended.

However, that faux pas pales in comparison to the one simultaneously being made elsewhere in southern Pennsylvania. For some inane reason, AWVR’s worst engineer (Ethan Suplee) decides to jump off his slow-moving locomotive to throw a switch to direct it onto another track.

Trouble is that, before he can climb back up, the throttle inadvertently slips down into the “FULL” position and the half-mile long freight train takes off without anyone aboard, quickly accelerating to 70 mph. Worse, this frightful development puts the runaway diesel on a collision course with a passenger train filled with school kids on an outing emanating from the Northern end of the state.

Can what looks like certain disaster somehow be averted? Of course, that challenge falls at the feet of fearless Frank who nobly rises to the occasion as soon as he learns about the dire situation. In so doing, he both grudgingly buries the hatchet with inexperienced Will and also suppresses his bitterness about being fired.

That, in a nutshell, is the cliché premise established practically at the outset of "Unstoppable," an edge-of-your-seat roller coaster ride designed with the Attention Deficit Generation in mind. The thrill-a-minute adventure, based on actual events, proceeds to serve up a series of near misses one after another, much like the mind-numbing, taser-like over-stimulation offered by your typical computer game.

Though this film features Denzel Washington doing what Denzel does best, namely, playing the selfless stoic with good teeth, the performance is undermined a bit because his character feels so familiar. There’s definitely a “been there, done that” about the predictable goings-on here since, just last year, he similarly saved the day in the remake of another train thriller, "The Taking of Pelham 123."

How long are you willing to watch an out-of-control locomotive barrel all over Pennsylvania while waiting for the altruistic heroes to enjoy their climactic moment? 90 minutes, I hope.

Good (**)

Rated PG-13 for profanity and scenes of peril.

Running time: 98 minutes

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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