Cinematically speaking, director Tony Scott (Top Gun, The Taking of Pelham 123) just doesn't know when to shut up. In this fact-based action drama, he has an inherently propulsive premise to work with: A railroad train carrying toxic chemicals, unmanned due to an operator screw-up, is hurtling at more than 70 miles an hour toward heavily populated areas in southern Pennsylvania, and only a conductor/driver team of veteran Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and rookie Will Colson (Chris Pine) seem to have a chance of stopping it.
So what do Scott and screenwriter Mark Bomback do with that story? They throw some utterly pointless background domestic drama at our main characters — as though the fact that Colson is having marital troubles or that Barnes is a single dad raises the stakes — and wallows in cheap "we're an evil corporation, so we're going to make a profit-motivated, who-cares-how-many-people-die decision" nonsense.
Meanwhile, Scott's camera, as it is wont to do, swoops in from helicopters, swings in wide arcs, pirouettes and snap-zooms at arbitrary intervals — because that's the only way he knows how to tell a story, even if he actually saps all the excitement from his film in the process.
There's plenty of energy in Washington's performance, but it's often tough to extract that energy from the yammering exposition. Grade: C-
Opens Nov. 12. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.