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Submitted by on January 31, 2011 – 4:55 PM13 Comments

Death Race 38, Sarah 18; 1 of 24 categories completed

I may be remembering this incorrectly, but I believe I saw the trailer for Unstoppable while watching The Town with the Couch Baron. Everyone else in the theater is like, “…Really, Denzel?” but I thought it looked fun. Not good, but fun. I made the mistake of saying so out loud, at which time the Couch Baron made a big show of moving over a seat.

Sarah: “What? I like trains!”

Couch Baron: [moves over two more seats]

(You know CB has a blog, right? Recaps the late lamented Terriers; has an awesome feature, the Oscars Death Race’s brother from another mother, called “John vs. the Netflix Queue”? Go on and bookmark it; I’ll wait.)

Anyway, Unstoppable: it is the bad. I could forgive the unnecessarily heavy and poorly thought out subplot with Chris Pine’s wife and the restraining order she’s taken out against him; I could even overlook the fact that not one but both of Denzel’s daughters work at the same Hooters franchise — as product placements go, it’s so flagrantly icky, I almost admire it. But in order for me to let those things slide, the action has to pop, and Unstoppable‘s doesn’t. Much of it takes place in extremely wide shots, which look pretty but lower the stakes significantly vis-à-vis the audience believing the situation is dangerous. Denzel, remember, is in his mid-fifties now, and looks it, here, for once, and yet he’s running down the length of a half-mile-long freight train that’s going 70 MPH and activating each car’s brakes manually — and we should worry that he’s doing that. I don’t know if it’s the fact that we “see” most of the action via the highly unrealistic news reports edited in to the sequence, or if the editing is just flabby overall, but we don’t worry about him at all.

Something about the movie’s timing is very strange. Tony Scott seems to have recycled footage of news choppers swinging in over the runaway train in at least three spots; the final press conference feels slapped together and, again, low-stakes, more like a school field day than a disaster-averted announcement. It’s a good-natured picture (I enjoyed the snarky chyrons at the end), the acting is professional-grade, and I learned a little something about train transport, I guess…it’s perfectly amiable and I didn’t hate it. It just doesn’t have the tension or drive you’d expect from the genre (or the director).

But hey, it’s short, so y’all Death Race completists can knock this off in 90 minutes and get on with your days.




  • Claire says:

    I actually saw this in theaters (friend was visiting from out of town and the only thing we could agree on was Chris Pine) and even though I agree with all the points you made here, we had a really, really enjoyable in-theater experience that made it worth the $10.

  • Driver B says:

    I agree with Claire – I also saw it in the theater, with my FIL who loves big name actors like Denzel, especially in action movies. It was not very good, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

    And I am fully amused that it is part of the Oscar Death Race. ;p

  • Eli says:

    I am always on the lookout for flagrantly icky product placement (Danny Boyle!) but it is a little bit clouded here. The real train folks on who this story is based actually had a daughter who worked at . . . you guessed it – Hooters. Just another example of Tony Scott trying to bring a little bit of truth to a cineplex near you.

  • Kelly says:

    Yeah, I loved it in the theater- big dumb movies make me smile sometimes, and at least this one kept the tension high and built in a way that made sense (well, in the context of a train chase, anyway). And I was just impressed that Tony Scott had made something that you could actually just watch and understand. The “evil train” foreboding opening credits, especially, made my companions and I roar with laughter. We’re weird, though.

  • Clare says:

    I saw this in the theater with my roommate. (He likes trains, and I like both Chris Pine and Denzel Washington.) It was bad, and not fun bad.

    I couldn’t get over the Hooters thing, either. Also wonky was the timeline — it wasn’t entirely clear how much time elapses between the very beginning and when stuff starts to go wrong. All I could think was, “Why is this Hooters open and completely packed at, what, 10am?”

    And then the daughters just STAY at Hooters and watch their dad in harm’s way on the TV and cheer like it’s the Miracle on Ice! I would have a mental breakdown if I was watching my father leap between train cars and narrowly escape death. That was ridiculous.

    Also ridiculous: the girls giving their dad the “hey, she’s totally cute” nod w/r/t Rosario Dawson when Dawson and Washington finally see each other face to face. That was one thing I did like about the movie (that Dawson’s character knew her shit and there wasn’t any random sexual tension between her and the male characters) and they ruined it at the end.

  • Rachel says:

    After my friend and I saw about a million trailers for Unstoppable on TV one night we decided to go see it in the theater, expecting to laugh and snark at it the whole time. We thought it was going to be pretty horrible, so we were pleasantly surprised at how much we just enjoyed it. That’s not to say that there wasn’t plenty to laugh at, but it was pretty entertaining. As the others have said, maybe seeing the movie in the theater added something to the experience.

  • Couch Baron says:

    Sarah is not remembering that wrong — I was with her for that pre-The Town preview. But she’s exaggerating about me moving over so many seats — I tried, but I fell into the aisle. And it wasn’t so much that it looked so terribly bad, but when they kept being unable to locate the RUNAWAY TRAIN, that’s when I was like, “I’m out.”

  • Gralnger says:

    Part of the problem was that this movie needed to be an ensemble cast, so that they could all die gruesomely trying to stop the train. That way we’d know it was dangerous to be doing this thing, and when Denzel finally makes it to the front of the train and straps on the Power Loader to fight with the Queen Alien, we’ll–wait, what movie are we talking about again?

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    CB, I know. Did the train burrow underground? Sprout wings and fly? How do you not locate a TRAIN?

  • Danielle says:

    This movie is called “Unbearable” in my house. We expected a fun, mindless action movie and watched this instead of The Fighter. So ill-advised. Everything about it is bad and Chris Pine, although a total hunk, is not enough to make a bad movie good. Hate.

  • Seth L says:

    I took my Mom to this one. She looooved it (mostly for Denzel and Chris Pine, can’t dispute her logic), but we both forgot we saw it.

    The cuts to Hooters were hilarious though, it was as if a producer said “This movie completely lacks cleavage! Quick, to Hooters!”

    What did it get nominated for? Hopefully not sound design, they had one blaring-elephant noise for the runaway train, and it gets used a gazillion times.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Seth, it’s Sound Editing.

  • Elyse says:

    ” All I could think was, “Why is this Hooters open and completely packed at, what, 10am?””
    Hahaha! Yes.
    My husband and I went to go see it together in the theater. 5 minutes in I realized I didn’t care what happened in the movie, and that I could leave right then, happily.
    So that made the movie feel about 7 hours long.

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