Friday, February 20, 2015

Runaway Train (1985)

Cannon Films didn't always produce grade B exploitation fare and lower.  Sometimes they had loftier goals.  Sometimes, they actually managed to get something truly good.  This is one of those times.

Based on an screenplay by Akira Kurosawa (see what I mean by loftier goals?), this is actually a pretty decent thriller starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts as a pair of hardened criminals, Manny and Buck respectively, who escape an Alaskan prison and end up on an out of control train manned only by a young woman played by Rebecca DeMornay.  Hot on the trail is the nasty warden, played by Cannon regular John P. Ryan who turns in a fairly sedate performance that is honestly a nice change from his usual scenery chewing.

Voight and Roberts get the majority of that duty and they acquit themselves admirably.  Kenneth McMillan also chews some scenery as a railway operator trying to avert disaster.  Kyle T. Heffner and T.K. Carter are his underlings and while Carter is okay, Heffner is just grating with his thoroughly unlikable tech whiz character.  It's generally not a good sign when the evil warden slams a guy's head into a toilet he's been peeing in and the audience can sort of dig where he's coming from.

Runaway Train benefits largely from the solid lead performances (Roberts is good as Buck and Jon Voight is solid as Manny, though he's an actor I generally don't enjoy that much); some nicely staged action scenes in and on the train and some amazing Alaskan scenery.  Director Andrei Konchalovsky does a good job of keeping things moving, though the film does descend into some murky, somewhat pretentious symbolism regarding the nature of man that probably would have been done better if Akira Kurosawa had gotten to direct it (he was planning to in the 70's but couldn't get the funding).

It only really mars the ending which goes for something a little more lyrical then the train crashing and while it works for the story, by the end of the movie you do sort of want to see it get smashed up real good.  There are also a few annoying side characters as I noted above working to stop the train, but they don't hurt the overall effectiveness of the movie that much and you do get to see the most annoying one be on the receiving end of a toilet dunking.

The film is an intelligent, effective thriller that works about as well as one can hope a thriller could work.  Cannon didn't always succeed when they aimed for respectability, but this is one of the rare instances where they hit the mark just fine.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.