At the end of a recent screening of "Unstoppable," another critic and I looked at each other with weariness. "Well," the other critic said, "that was mediocre!" And I did not disagree.
So I'm surprised right now that the movie has gotten an 89 percent positive rating over on Rotten Tomatoes. . . .
Continues after the jump.
But a close look at the positive reviews indicates an acknowledgment of the movie's considerable flaws in terms of character (there isn't much) and an embracing of its functioning as an efficient machine, pushing you along the track with its runaway train.
While I have often indicated my admiration for the big dumb action movie, "Unstoppable" did not win my admiration for precisely the reason some writers appear to like it. As a big machine, it is made of interchangeable parts from other movies, cobbled together with the hope that, if nothing else, a really good trailer can be assembled. And the trailer is, in fact, good -- probably better than the movie itself.
The premise is trailer-simple: An unmanned train has taken off, gathering speed and threatening places and people along its track. Efforts are made to stop it, but they don't work. A venal railroad executive (Kevin Dunn) is insufficiently concerned about the threat. A dedicated railroad worker (Rosario Dawson) in the control center has to rely on people in the field to get the job done. And it turns out that the only guys who can get it done are a grizzled, veteran train man (Denzel Washington) and his rookie associate (Chris Pine).
The movie tries for character flourishes in Washington and Pine, but they are rather modest ones. More and more, it's about the train, and about the piliing up of cliches. There's more than a little "Jaws" here, with Dunn in the Murray Hamilton role, and "Armageddon" (Dawson as Billy Bob Thornton). Unlike "Jaws" or, say, Spielberg's "Duel," "Unstoppable's" mechanical villain has no intelligence; it just has speed, a dangerous cargo and the indomitability the title indicates. But while there are good sequences here and there, the movie never pretends to be inventive in any narrative way. You can predict several pieces of the ending about 10 minutes in.
Does it bore? Not exactly. As its admirers have noted, it does move along. But the performances, knowing they are only in service of the larger action, are unremarkable. And its predictability made me indifferent, amused by the occasional stunt and wondering when it would be done.