Sunday, November 14, 2010

Unstoppable Review

This is the month when three movies shot in the Pittsburgh area last year are being released almost simultaneously. I try to go see most locally-made movies, unless they're just gorefests. I like to find locations I'm familiar with, and the work of people I know slightly who work in the industry.

The first of the three came out this weekend - Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine and directed by Tony Scott.

I'm not much for action adventure type movies, because they are mostly a mess of illogic. Unstoppable is no exception. I'm surprised that the reviews have been as positive as they have been. I'll admit it's a little exciting in places, but it really didn't hold my interest very much. The script has almost every action movie cliche and stock character you can imagine. Tiresome.

I'd like to say it was well-made, but the photography swings so much that it gets a little dizzying. I suppose that's part of the point - keep the audience off-balance so they can't think very much during the movie.

There are also stupid continuity problems. For whatever reason, while the movie is clearly set in Western Pennsylvania and a few scenes are actually set in Pittsburgh, the production decided to put in fake town names. I'm pretty sure the ending sequences were shot in Wheeling, West Virginia. So why not say the train was going to wind up in Wheeling? Why make up the name of another city that's larger than Pittsburgh but roughly in the Pittsburgh area?

Much of the movie was shot in small towns outside of Altoona, where train tracks parallel small country roads for a long time. One thing that was too bad is one of the most striking train vistas in the region is the Horseshoe Curve, which runs along a hill overlooking a valley. For whatever reason, they didn't/couldn't shoot from there.

At one point early in the movie, you see Channel 11 weather on in the background. It shows the highs in the 90s in southwestern Pennsylvania the day of the "train incident." At the end of the movie (which is either late in the day of train incident or maybe the next day), people are wearing mittens and scarves.

The acting was just tiresome. I've been a big fan of Denzel Washington, but he's done this upright/blue collar guy a lot over the last few years, and I know he can do better than this. Chris Pine is still so-so. The only performance that was at all interesting was Rosario Dawson who is stuck in a train control center for the entire movie. But she was the only person in this movie with any spark.

What made the movie kind of tolerable in places was comparing/contrasting corporate/government reaction in Unstoppable (which was shot in the fall 2009) and the BP oil disaster (which happened in mid-2010). You can almost see top-level corporate reaction in both being the same; that some of the people on the ground might have had a few clues but were generally ignored. The one "fed" in the flick initially seemed like he'd be part of the problem, but he wound up being useful.

So if you like a movie that basically screams "I'm a big video game," you might like Unstoppable. I saw this movie at noon in a suburban Pittsburgh theater that was about 2/3rds full (usually the first Saturday showing doesn't fill up like that, so that showed a fair amount local interest in the film).

Still looking very much to seeing Love and Other Drugs (every time I see the commercial, it makes me laugh) and The Next Three Days (which looks like it has striking Pittsburgh photography...and, heck, I might be in it as I was an extra in some of the airport scenes).