Tony Scott loves runaway trains.
After directing the remake of “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” the British action junkie returns to the rails with “Unstoppable,” a thriller about an unmanned freight train hurtling through the Pennsylvania countryside with a potentially disastrous load of toxic chemicals.
Veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and rookie conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine) are on a train headed straight toward the out-of-control locomotive, which took off by itself when the driver hopped out of his cab to change the track switch and accidentally left the engine in full throttle.
Barnes and Colson make a heroic attempt to save the day, but the real stars are the trains, which get more screen time than either of them.
The red-and-yellow, half-mile long train with the doomsday cargo is ominously described as a “missile the size of the Chrysler Building.” The blue-and-yellow locomotive in its path is older, smaller and slower. On paper, it looks like the worst mismatch since Tyson-Spinks.
Scott mixes overhead shots of the trains with close-ups of the actors, using quick cuts to heighten the tension. He also eschews computer effects in favor of real stunts, like running on top of moving rail cars, jumping from a truck onto a speeding train and dangling from a helicopter.
It makes the film, based on a 2001 incident in Ohio, scarier than the blockbusters created by tech geniuses sitting in front of a computer screen. (I could have done without the silly subplot about a group of schoolchildren taking a field trip to learn about train safety.)
Though Washington and Pine don’t have much to say, screenwriter Mark Bomback gives them enough angst to foster sympathy. Barnes is a widower estranged from his two teenage daughters and about to lose his job. Colson is separated from his wife and son and resented by his new colleagues because he got his job through family connections.
Their corporate bosses want to derail the runaway train before it reaches a midsize city with a winding track that almost guarantees a lethal crash. Instead, they attempt a risky maneuver that involves running their train in reverse until it gets close enough to link with the runaway, then pulling in the opposite direction to slow it down.
With help from a calm yardmaster (Rosario Dawson), a nerdy safety inspector (Kevin Corrigan) and an audacious welder (Lew Temple), Barnes and Colson proceed with their tug-of-war plan. Get onboard if you love to be terrified.
“Unstoppable,” from 20th Century Fox, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***1/2
Listening to Harrison Ford’s raspy mumbling in “Morning Glory” is a painful experience. He sounds like a cross between a foghorn and a sick frog.
His voice is one of many annoying aspects of this romantic comedy about a struggling TV morning show with feuding anchors (Ford and Diane Keaton), a workaholic young producer (Rachel McAdams) and a cynical network boss (Jeff Goldblum) who only cares about ratings.
A shallow script by Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”) and slipshod direction by Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) don’t do the cast any favors.
Ford plays a gruff legendary newsman who balks at being associated with morning fluff like cooking segments, pet stories and weatherman jokes. Keaton is a former beauty queen who grows tired of Ford’s condescension and ends up trading insults with him on the air.
McAdams has a fling with a fellow producer (Patrick Wilson) and tries to boost ratings with goofy stunts like having the weatherman ride a roller coaster, parachute and get a tattoo on his rear end.
I couldn’t care less. “Morning Glory” is as exhilarating as a morning-show segment on nail care.
“Morning Glory,” from Paramount Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2
“Cool It” is Bjorn Lomborg’s answer to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” the Oscar-winning documentary that predicts planetary disaster if major steps aren’t taken to halt global warming.
The Danish academic argues that Gore exaggerates the problem. While he doesn’t deny that global warming exists, he favors solutions that he claims are quicker and more cost effective.
Lomborg makes his case in “Cool It,” a temperate documentary that includes many of the same techniques that Gore used in his movie -- slide shows, testimony from scientists, biographical snippets and clips from his globetrotting educational campaign.
Gore calls for wider use of fuel-efficient vehicles, fluorescent light bulbs and solar panels, while Lomborg prefers alternatives such as whiter, heat-absorbing pavement and “cloud brightening,” where seawater mist is sprayed into the atmosphere to thicken clouds so less solar heat will reach the earth.
Lomborg’s 2001 book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” made him a pariah in academia and his criticism of “An Inconvenient Truth” led to even more backlash. Since I’m not a scientist, I can’t tell you who is right and which solutions are best. I can say that Lomborg presents his case in a rational way that at least merits consideration.
“Cool It,” from Roadside Attractions,” is playing in major U.S. cities. Rating: **1/2
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(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)