Movie maths, question 1: A freight train half a mile long and full of inflammable poison heads south at full power with no brakes and no driver. Travelling north on the same track is a passenger train carrying 150 squealing children. How long before we’re all covered in schoolkid soup?
That’s just one of the problems for Pennsylvania yardmaster Connie (Dawson) to worry about when some moron (Ethan Suplee, the dimwit brother from My Name Is Earl) throws the wrong lever.
Another is that the company is more worried about the financial impact than what happens when 30,000 gallons of molten phenol goes up in smoke. (“It’s serious stuff,” explains the handily present health and safety expert.)
Meanwhile, 200 miles down the line, seasoned engineer Frank (Washington) is having a trying first day with disinterested new recruit Will (Star Trek's Pine).
With 28 years in the job and two daughters working at Hooters (woo woo!), Frank is wise enough to leave his personal issues at home. Unlike Will who, distracted by the restraining order his wife has slapped him with, clearly has much to learn.
But he’d better learn fast, because Connie has just radioed to tell them that “a missile the size of the Chrysler Building” is heading their way. And it’s going to take youth and experience to get them out of this one.
Apparently it’s all based on a real incident from 2001, but don’t let that fool you into taking it remotely seriously.
As TV crews follow the action by air and land, much of the action is presented as a live news feed, with helpful graphics and frequent recaps to keep everyone up to speed.
But you have to wonder how those helicopters manage to stay alongside the train when it goes through the woods...
While hurtling along with all the breakneck editing, seat-edge stunts and cheeky pay-off lines you’d expect from Tony Scott and the writer of Die Hard 4, it’s all kept on track by the central trio.
You always know what you’re going to get when Denzel plays the ordinary hero. They ought to have called it Unflappable.
And though the characterisation rarely rises above perfunctory, Pine brings his youthful Kirk-ish charisma to proceedings and Dawson is never less than credible and engaging.
It's a buttock-clenching ride, even though stringing out some of the early potential disasters would have made it tenser still. Nevertheless, you’ll still feel like you’ve had a train to catch.