Synopsis: After a confrontation with an unstable man at an intersection, a woman becomes the target of his rage.
Stars: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, Austin P. McKenzie
Director: Derrick Borte
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: They tried, bless their money grubbing hearts, but they tried. Studios that had big summer plans with franchise films set to open since the beginning of April have desperately adjusted their schedules to see if their movies could possibly debut and bring in some dough. Disney kept pushing their live-action Mulan back before finally announcing it would debut in most countries on their streaming service for a $30 rental fee, Universal moved both their newest Fast and Furious flick and October’s Halloween sequel to 2021, and hard-nosed Warner Brothers continues to deny science and nudged Christopher Nolan’s Tenet back a week at a time before picking a date in September and (as of now) sticking with it.
Who could have ever predicted that the first new film arriving in theaters to welcome back brave audiences would be Unhinged from Solstice Studios, a fledgling company soldiering forward with its initial release in a country still taking stock of a massive virus crisis? And what a welcome back it is. Movie-goers that have been busying themselves on repeated viewings of nostalgic classics, binging on television shows, and trying out the latest offering from the well-stocked on demand sector are in for a rude howdy-do courtesy of Russell Crowe’s garish road-rage thriller. It’s tense as all get-out and slick as can be but it’s also so nasty and mean-spirited you’ll wish you had watched it home so you can shower after to wash its palpable grime off after.
A grim prologue finds Crowe’s Tom Cooper already hopping over the line of bad judgment, leading into a current events credits sequence that might just send you hunting for your last Xanax. Before we see Tom again, we’re introduced to Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorius, Mortal Engines) a young mother going through a divorce and teetering on the edge of barely getting by. Her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman, 2019’s Child’s Play) and live-in brother Fred (Austin P. McKenzie) are all too happy to point out her shortcomings but not so into helping out with solutions to her crumbling business or relationship. Only her lawyer friend Andy (Jimmi Simpson, White House Down) seems to be actively looking out for her best interest. Everyone else wants something from her or needs her to make good on promises she can’t always keep.
She’s near the end of a short fuse when she finds herself behind a truck at an intersection while already running late to drop her son off at school. When the truck doesn’t move at the green light she lays on her horn once…then twice…then swerves around only to find herself in bumper to bumper traffic going the other direction, more than enough opportunity for the truck (and the man within) to catch up with her. Re-enter, you guessed it, Tom Cooper who demands an apology which Rachel isn’t eager to give. When strained niceties turn to aggressive threats, Rachel finds herself and her loved ones at the epicenter of Cooper’s dangerous psychotic rage.
What’s good about a film like Unhinged is that it perks up someone like me who has been missing those fun B-movie thrillers of the 90s. After all, it wouldn’t be very sporting of me to drone on in my reviews about the death knell of those mid-budgeted suspense yarns and then kick to the curb the literal first one out of the gate when theaters have reopened. All the same, there’s such an inherent meanness to Carl Ellsworth’s original screenplay that I have to say what started off as a nail-biting tale fueled by impending dread gives way to something far less well-intentioned. When Cooper becomes an unstoppable monster hell bent on destroying Rachel’s life with his bare bloody hands in the most grievous ways possible, Unhinged becomes an upsetting and increasingly uncomfortable watch. Is this supposed to be the kind of entertainment we have been clamoring for?
It would be easy to argue that the violence Cooper inflicts is no less gratuitous than your standard Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers sequel but there’s a clear distinction between those fantasy world characters and this film that’s set squarely in our realistic modern times. It’s as if Ellsworth’s created a cypher for some kind of anger he feels toward society and uses it as a battering ram against anything that gets in the way. Countless innocent lives are lost in the film, some for no other reason than they may be annoying in a way our judgmental culture has deemed them to be. You also can’t skirt the fact that while Cooper is indeed a psychopath, Rachel is given multiple opportunities at the outset to put a pin in their traffic scuffle but refuses to do so…which propels Cooper to pounce on his murder quest.
It almost feels too easy to say Crowe (The Water Diviner) is perfectly cast in the role of an off-his-rocker nutjob but…he is. Wearing a faux fat belly so fake looking I swear I saw the square edges when he turned from side to side, Crowe plays the role like a white privileged slob of an American. I’m shocked he didn’t throw a Trump/Pence bumper sticker on the truck to complete the picture, but you can’t alienate your audience in the south or date yourself too much, ya know? Anyway, Crowe is menacing enough and blusters his way through the 90-minute movie with an apt presence but little in the way of any character coloring. Some blanks are filled in, but Cooper is mostly a mystery…which is probably the point. As the object of his abject hate, Pistorius makes the most out of a role written to be a train wreck at the beginning and a full-on ten-car pile-up by the end. At some point, you start to think her character must not know how to dial 911 because it takes her forever to make that call. The rest of the cast is barely worth mentioning, though I’d like to state for the record Bateman looks and acts like another younger brother to Pistorius rather than her son.
I’ll be quite interested to see how audiences respond to Unhinged in this first weekend of screenings back and also how theaters in turn deal with new crowds at their theaters. If there’s one thing to be thankful for, it’s that Unhinged is being marketed in a way that should keep families staying home and avoiding the temptation to haul young children out to see this terror-filled picture. With this pandemic still an active concern, it’s not worth the risk of venturing into the theaters yet and Unhinged is absolutely not the one to take the chance on it with.