In “Unstoppable,” Tony Scott depicts Hooters as some sort of gastronomical rave for red-blooded guys — breasts thrust in diners’ faces, jiggling to thrumming electronica and bouncing on flatscreen TVs.
Were Scott ever given a table for one at Hooters, he’d be crushed to learn it’s basically Applebee’s with panty lines and cleavage — offering weak-sauced wings and key lime pie fresh from the deep freezer.
“Delightfully tacky” is part of Hooters’ slogan but a poor measurement of the chain’s popularity. Applied to Scott’s output — and, when he’s on, his appeal — the adage makes sense, and no 2010 film has served up action adrenaline quite as tacky or delightful as “Unstoppable.”
At 66, Scott is the oldest kid left in Hollywood’s sandbox. There’s no room for subtlety with this cigar-chomping sexagenarian — still crashing and smashing planes, automobiles and, now, trains with the same first-grader glee as in 1986’s “Top Gun” and 1987’s “Beverly Hills Cop II.”
Scott’s bag of tricks has been mixed of late — the nauseating bad-shroom visuals of “Domino” and “Man on Fire,” the cheesy Viagra-ad action of “The Taking of Pelham 123,” the limp star power of “Spy Game.”
Here, Scott goes loop-de-loop in a way that suits him — in constant command of a camera that could have chaotically swooped from news-chopper airspace to train-trestle rocks with little rhyme or reason.
Instead, Scott’s crew hammers home the Pennsylvanian pandemonium of “Unstoppable’s” juggernaut force — an unmanned train carrying hazardous freight and bearing down on a major city center at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour.
Aerial cinematographer David B. Nowell earns kudos for sweeping overhead shots of brittle communities browbeaten by a battering-ram economy and embedding viewers in the maelstrom of a speeding train. Mild inertia is all part of the “Unstoppable” experience.
The perspective isn’t just palatable, but pleasurable like no Scott movie since 1998’s “Enemy of the State.” “Unstoppable” is a terrific thrill ride tempered by sobering steel-city woes and blue-collar anxiety, but also buoyed by can-do optimism and work ethic.
Teaming with Scott for a fifth time, Denzel Washington is Frank, a veteran railroad engineer and widower estranged from his grown daughters after 28 years on the line.
Will (Chris Pine of “Star Trek”) is a hothead rookie conductor on the ropes with his wife. It’s likely that Will’s temper has terminated numerous jobs and he’s reluctantly relied on nepotism to keep this one.
In some ways, “Unstoppable” suggests a non-nuclear redux of Washington and Scott’s “Crimson Tide” (still their best collaboration), putting Washington in Gene Hackman’s role.
But it’s not instant antagonism in these cramped quarters. Writer Mark Bomback (“Live Free or Die Hard”) lets Frank and Will trade barbs, sling the lingo of an uncertain economy and establish salty, shaky camaraderie — fleshing out their laments and limitations for 50 minutes before sending them on a seeming suicide mission.
Frank and Will’s plan is the last-ditch effort to catch a tiger by its tail — slowing a train whose derailment could wipe out 750,000 people, including their families. Scolded by a corporate wag (Kevin Dunn) and stealthily assisted by stalwart dispatcher Connie (Rosario Dawson), Frank and Will try to couple their train to the runaway, reverse direction and jam the brakes without becoming “a wreck on a wreck.”
The results are a thunderous, jaw-dropping invocation of Murphy’s Law — maintaining “Speed’s” slingshot momentum sans cackling villain and in reverse, seeing as dipping below 50 is a good start.
It’s nailbiting fun once fit hits the shan, but “Unstoppable’s” unexpected patience has unadorned payoffs — convincingly testing metal and mettle.
Bomback, Scott, Washington and Pine script, shoot and speak third-act insights as they might be in reality: diffusion of tension and distraction from the plan’s sheer lunacy.
Washington — now 56! — always wears civil-service weariness well and here delivers a key revelation with everyman heft before an exciting, if improbable, train-top sprint. As in “Trek,” Pine shows what simmers beneath his surface, ably toe-to-toe with Washington’s expected heroism.
There are some laughably on-the-nose interludes en route to “Unstoppable’s” fantastic finish: the railroad’s CEO reached by cell on a golf course, concerned only about stock devaluation; hellacious-wreck happenstance that places a horse trailer in harm’s way; Kevin Corrigan dispatching impenetrably technical omens of doom as a safety inspector; and the laughably plumped-up scenes at Hooters.
But “Unstoppable’s” 98 minutes are pretty much gone in a blink with get-in, get-out action and great gusto — comfort food served with far more spice and flair than anticipated.