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RUNAWAY TRAIN

    

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The boutique label Twilight Time at ScreenArchives.com has given this violent thriller a Blu-ray upgrade, which enhances its stunning snowbound visuals. Here’s my Jan. 24, 1986, Deseret News review. And despite some of the reservations I express here, the film earned Oscar nominations for both of its stars, Jon Voight and Eric Roberts.

Essentially combining two violent genres, “Runaway Train” is a prison escape picture that turns into a disaster picture … in more ways than one. The real disaster is the script, as contrived as they come.

But that’s not meant to simply dismiss the film, since “Runaway Train” boasts some harrowing suspense sequences and an offbeat trio of performances from its stars. (If you see Rebecca DeMornay in “The Trip to Bountiful,” you’ll never recognize her here — the role and the look are that different.)

In the lead is Jon Voight as a convict so hardened that the warden has welded him into his cell in an Alaska prison. Then, after three years in that cell and a subsequent civil-rights suit, he is finally let out to sojourn with the other prisoners.

Voight is a little hard to take as a brutal killer, and it doesn’t help that he plays the character as if this were a sequel to “The Champ,” looking and sounding like an over-the-hill pug. Still, it’s an undeniably interesting characterization.

     

                       Jon Voight, 'Runaway Train'

In the yard, he meets up with groupie Eric Roberts, in another of his patented whiny punk roles, and as might be expected Voight becomes a target of the warden and his cohorts, prompting him to attempt an escape.

And escape he does, reluctantly with Roberts in tow, and after an incredible trek through the snow they come upon a railroad yard and board a train — four engines locked together. But as the train pulls out, the engineer suffers a heart attack and falls out of the cab, leaving the train to barrel 90 miles-an-hour down the track.

It takes Voight and Roberts a while to catch on to what’s happening. Soon they stumble upon railroad worker Rebecca DeMornay and together they try to get to that front engine so they can stop the train.

That’s about it, storywise, but there are some genuinely spine-tingling moments as the film progresses.

     

Those are rather isolated moments, however. On the whole the film suffers from several problems — the aforementioned contrivances, an obnoxious performance by Eric Roberts, a pace that simply begins so frenetically it can’t be built upon, and a general feeling that the entire production is a bit overwrought.

This is also a very grimy movie. In contrast to the white snowcapped surroundings, the people and everything they touch are, without exception, filthy and horrifying, and the cinematography is deliberately gray and dingy. You may want to head directly for a shower when it’s over.

Andrei Konchalovsky, the Russian director of “A Slave of Love” and “Siberiade,” is a stylish filmmaker and “Runaway Train” boasts individual scenes that manage to transcend the rest of the film, lyrical moments that indicate what the film that might have been. But in the end he is overwhelmed by the material.

This is a movie for action buffs who don’t care that their movies have plot holes bigger than the tunnels the train goes through. And given the rapid movement of it all, the action alone may be enough for some.

“Runaway Train” is rated R for violence, nudity and an abundance of profanity.