It’s true — this man has no hinges.
“The Man” (Russell Crowe) is at the end of his rope. Having already lost everything meaningful in his life and gotten away clean with a shallow empty revenge, he sits numb at a red light — before some uppity basic broad lays on her horn and road rages around him… whoops, wait, hold up. This is actually the story of Rachel (Caren Pistorius), a newly single mom who’s always late and can’t seem to get her life together. When her foolish life choices put her behind a crazy driver down on his luck, she gives The Man renewed purpose to take his revenge again, this time on a complete stranger guilty only of being impatient and unapologetic. Quickly obtaining information with ninja-like skills enabled by every possible safety mistake the screenwriter could think up, a hyper-violent cat-and-mouse chase eats up the rest of the runtime until its predictable yet semi-satisfying end.
What was supposed to be “a return to cinemas” promised by Christopher Nolan’s new release Tenet has been hijacked by a frumpy ex-gladiator driving an overcompensating pickup. The fact that “the big bad” is featured on the posters and previews instead of the hero is also telling, but it’s not as simple as a three-hundred pound bully going after a hundred pound victim. The Man wants her to live, but everyone else in the line of fire is fair game. With audiences fatigued over staying home, keeping their jobs, and on the eve of a U.S. presidential election, is a road rage thriller really the best idea right now, or is there a strong desire for a feature film overstuffed with violent delights?
The tagline “he can happen to anyone” is accurate, because if you’re kind of stupid, it’s true. From the moment Crowe utters the line “suicide by cop is fine by me,” you know we’re heading toward a Thelma and Louise ending, meaning it really doesn’t matter what happens since there’s only one way it’s going to stop. The film does a fine job glorifying violence over individual victimization; characters may not be cheering on the violence, but that doesn’t make it any less gratuitous, delivering exactly what it promises no matter how far-fetched the setup. Not only should this film be required viewing for all drivers education and personal safety courses, it plays like an after-school special, too — where the celebrity villain looms larger than life because the generic would-be victim is actually the viewer. It’s only missing an after-credits “lessons learned” speech.
Fans of horror will recognize the transplanted genre trope of over-punishment for transgression, but that’s not the only similarity. Director Derrick Borte seems to enjoy directing thrillers that entertain while also happily straining credibility — it’s fiction, after all (not an endorsement). While some may not find this level of violent presentation their cup of tea, there is a catharsis from seeing people doing stupid things and something actually happening to them in kind. Take for example the woman driving on a freeway and simultaneously doing her makeup; while everyone has seen and imagined the horror of what would happen but never does, it almost feels justified to see the same situation fictionalized in a beautifully destructive way. Can viewers really blame themselves for thinking, “Welp, that was bound to happen sooner or later”?
There’s some mush-mouthing in the opening scenes as the characters quickly try to establish who’ll be terrorized later, but the focus is primarily on Crowe’s antics and Caren’s Rachel waking up to the possibility she has some degree of control to exert. The plot setup isn’t anywhere as complex as individual scenes were staged by the stunt team — Disturbia writer Carl Ellsworth has the sole credit — so if watching Crowe apologetically chewing scenery will snap you out of a no-blockbuster summer funk, here’s a jagged little pill for you, Alanis.
Unhinged is rated R for strong violent content, language throughout, and an unironic cover of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” over the too-long credits.
Three skull recommendation out of four