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The last time audiences were taken for a ride by hyperactive action auteur Tony Scott they didn’t, in a certain sense, get very far. Scott plonked audiences on board a train that wouldn’t start in his 2009 remake of Joseph Sargent’s ’70s hostage drama The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, recruiting John Travolta to grimace, scowl and send pesky do-gooders the long kiss goodnight from somewhere behind a six-inch handlebar mustache.

How the times change: the central location of Scott’s new pulse pounding adrenaline fest Unstoppable is again a train, but this one has the reverse problem: it can’t slow down.

Denzel Washington stars in both movies; in the former as a calmly spoken mild-mannered traffic dispatcher and in the latter as a calmly spoken mild-mannered train engineer, but now with a trace of bitterness. Frank Barnes, a veteran fast approaching forced retirement, projects his disdain for his new vocational circumstance through cocksure but sage tutelage of Chris Pine’s Will Colson, a snappy young upstart conductor who decides to prove his mettle by taking part in Frank’s kooky plan stop to in its tracks a massive unmanned locomotive.

Nicknamed “The Beast”, this horror on rails resembles something right out of a creature feature, such is Scott’s frenetic approach. Not only is the train driver-less and gaining speed, it’s also loaded with toxic cargo (in a glorious splash of Hollywood hyperbole, school children are involved too) and headed towards a city. The train resembles, as the control room character (Rosario Dawson) observes in between staring incredulously at screens, maps and charts and yelping down the phone at her boss, something not unlike a gargantuan missile.

Sustaining a rollicking momentum by cutting from The Beast to TV news bulletins, a control room engulfed in panic and confusion and pithy, entirely expendable getting-to-know-you dialogue between the two lead characters, it’s clear early on that Tony Scott is in his element and audiences will be strapped in for a rollicking nail-biter. Cheesy fist in the air moments and blatant grabs for emotional gravity always threatened to derail the twitchy pleasure of watching Unstoppable, but Scott keeps the cheese low fat and the action thick and flowing.

The title is a description not of the train but of Unstoppable’s gnarly momentum. It comes on hard and fast, with half a mile of steam and grunt leaking out its wazoo, as ferociously unrelenting as the beast it photographs. This movie is a torpedo of rock and roll disastertainment — a knuckle buster to the noggin’ that speeds down the right track to satisfy audiences hankering for an exciting hour and a half. At the very least, those who came to see a movie about an unstoppable train ain’t going to leave disappointed.

The details: Unstoppable is showing in cinemas nationally.

Peter Fray

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