Here’s what a train can do: hurtle down a fixed course very, very fast. Here’s what it can’t do: think, scheme or gloat about being the 70-mile-an-hour villain in Tony Scott’s thriller about a runaway coaster packed with chemicals that’s, as rail yard staffer Rosario Dawson yelps, “a missile the size of the Chrysler Building!” There are no bad guys, just bad engineering and bad PR (and, of course, bad luck underscored by the train’s slot machine name 777.) Not that Tony Scott doesn’t sweat for extra drama—under his throttle, the train roars and hisses like a killer dinosaur, who, as it’s powered by fossil fuels, could have its DNA pumping through the engine.
Speaking of dinosaurs, here comes Denzel Washington as a three-decade vet of the tracks sniping at newbie Chris Pine for general asshattery. They, their 25-car train, the murder train and the movie are all on a fixed course and the best thing about Scott and screenwriter Mark Bomback’s popcorn flick is that it chugs away as though it never notices the whole premise (and solution) is goofy and predictable. You can practically hear the editor huff, “I think I can, I think I can,” as he cranks up the suspenseful cuts and layers on loud, manic music. And it works well enough, thanks to a love of number-crunching that makes the audience feel engaged in a deadly algebra problem. Four miles! 2000 feet! Population 780,000! At the same breath, Scott makes fun of the heavy-panting local news and uses them to amp up the danger, say with their flash animation of just what would happen if the train fell off a bridge and onto a field of oil drums. Unstoppable efficiently trucks down the tracks, and if you don’t have a better place to be for two hours, you could do worse than spend it with Washington and Pine’s all-American heroes who hop off the train as if they’re just waiting for Norman Rockwell to make them famous.