Confession: I thought this movie would suck. Denzel Washington back playing with trains so soon after The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3? Please. Well, mea culpa. Unstoppable, again directed by Tony Scott, is a choo-choo that takes off like a crazy-ass rocket. Your head will spin. Your palms will sweat. Your nerves will fry. What more do you want from a train movie? A layered plot and deep-dish profundity? As if.
The selling points here are jolts. And this movie delivers so hard it shoots off sparks. Washington ignites as Frank Barnes, a veteran engineer with two college-age daughters (the sweeties work Hooters to help defray tuition costs) and an attitude toward his mouthy new conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine), also with temper issues at home. Washington and Pine go way beyond white-knuckle duty, goading each other with tasty humor and unexpected feeling. But the focus is on a freight train carrying toxic chemicals. The train is unmanned, on the loose and gaining speed. If it jumps the rails, the population of Stanton, Pennsylvania is roadkill, including cute little tykes.
Does the script really stoop that low to build tension? Duh. Yardmaster Connie Hooper (a fierce, first-rate Rosario Dawson) must figure out what to do, just like Washington did in Pelham. Every movie junkie knows the answer. Get Washington and Pine on board the runaway train and let Scott run every trick in his stunt arsenal until they save the day. Unstoppable is a bang-up ride that means to wring you out. Mission accomplished.