Who doesn't have a sweet tooth for intrigue on a train? Hercule Poirot grilling dining-car dandies in Murder on the Orient Express? Steven Seagal snapping necks in Under Siege 2? There's something about a claustrophobic tube whistling at breakneck speed that makes mayhem go down smooth. So a thriller aboard the Trans-Siberian line, stretching roughly 5,000 miles from Beijing to Moscow, should be a cinch, right? Not so fast, Casey Jones.
Transsiberian director Brad Anderson, whose résumé includes underseen gems like 2000's Happy Accidents, certainly has fun with the exotic setting a moving freak show of pear-shaped babushkas and burly men tossing back vodka shots. But his main characters could use more spice. Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer play an American couple returning from a charity mission in China who are later joined in their cramped compartment by Carlos and Abby, a pair of backpackers who may or may not be heroin mules. One look at the former (Eduardo Noriega), with his creepy Eurotrash stares, and there's no question that trouble lies around the next snowy bend in the tracks. How exactly that trouble unspools is one of the film's sole tense pleasures, so it's not worth spoiling here. But by the time Ben Kingsley takes over as a Russian inspector chewing on the word nyet as if it were made of beef Stroganoff, Anderson's once-promising trip is seconds away from jackknifing off the rails. B-