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Now in our eleventh calendar year!
PCR #555 (Vol. 11, No. 46). This edition is for the week of November 8--14, 2010.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

theater seats

"Unstoppable"  by Mike Smith
Forgotten Films: Bless the Beasts & Children  by ED Tucker
Midnight Video: The Gateway to Horror Movie Imports  by Chris Woods
Female Prisoner: #701: Scorpion  by Jason Fetters
Remembering .... Passing On .... .... .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf  by Mike Smith

20th Century Fox     
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson
Directed by: Tony Scott
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hour 38 mins

The words “Based on a true story” are a great way to get people to come to the movies. Sometimes they’re well made and historically accurate (“In Cold Blood” comes to mind). Sometimes they’re well made and wildly inaccurate. “A Beautiful Mind” is a great film but somehow director Ron Howard forgot to mention that John Nash not only slept around with both women and men but that he was a very outspoken anti-Semite. And some are pretty much middle of the road in both quality and accuracy. Guess which category “Unstoppable” falls into?

Outside of a small school in an even smaller Pennsylvania town, Will Colson (Pine) watches a young mother and child. He picks up his cell phone but no one answers on the other end. Unphased, he drives to the local train yard where he is currently training to be a conductor. He meets his trainer, Frank Barnes (Washington), a veteran of the tracks, whose two daughters are apparently the only two girls in the world who go to college AND work at Hooters. Because of his work schedule Frank has had to miss an important family event so he’s not in the best mood to be babysitting the new guy. Especially when Will is probably going to take his job. On the other side of the yard Dewey (Ethan Suplee) is moving a train down the line. He lets the engine coast while he hops off to check something on the tracks. Overweight and obviously a slacker (those two go together in movies like Hope and Crosby), Dewey fails to set the throttle properly and the train begins to pick up speed, easily outrunning Dewey and heading down the tracks. Uh oh!

I can only think of two great movies that feature a runaway train. One is the first pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, the comedy “Silver Streak” (sadly, that film’s co-star, Jill Clayburgh, passed away this week). The other is the aptly named “Runaway Train.” What keeps “Unstoppable” off of this list is the lack of interest the audience has in the lives of those threatened. Part of the problem is that while the train is hurtling out of control, its tanks filled with deadly chemicals and its eventual destination one of those Hollywood towns filled with only women, children and cute animals, our two stars are chatting amiably about life. Of course, during the course of these discussions come the revelations that are supposed to make you care more about Will and Frank. But it’s hard to care MORE when you really don’t care at all. This lack of caring is the fault of screenwriter Mark Bomback, who unbelievably tackled many of the same elements of the story in “Live Free or Die Hard.” Maybe it was the fact that the audience had already invested three film's worth of their life into the character of John McClane, but the film packed quite an emotional wallop. The fault with “Unstoppable” lies with the behind-the-camera talent, not the actors involved. Washington is his usual quiet self, saying only enough to hopefully build up his character with the audience. As Will, Pine is all blue eyes and three-day stubble. Apparently, Will managed to find the only job in America where it’s not important to shave prior to showing up for work. Dawson is strong as the no-nonsense worker whose knowledge of the situation is more than others are prepared to accept. And it’s always good to see Kevin Dunn on screen, here playing a company executive whose concerns are more for the company’s stock then for its workers. Director Scott handles the action well, which is really almost a given considering he has such films as “Top Gun,” “True Romance” and last year's Denzel/train movie, “The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three” on his resumé. However, as exciting as the action was, I really didn’t care enough about Will and Frank to worry about whether or not the train was going to fly off the tracks.

If I told you that on May 15, 2001, an unmanned CSX locomotive pulling 47 cars (none of them filled with deadly chemicals) left a train yard near Toledo, Ohio and wandered through three counties until an employee was able to jump on board and bring it to a stop, you might think to yourself “that wouldn’t really be a great movie.” And you’d be right.

On a scale of zero to four stars I give “Unstoppable”  

To comment on this or any other PCR article, please visit The Message Board. This week's movie review of "Unstoppable" is ©2010 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2010, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.