A number of years ago I had a friend in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He told me I should never argue with someone over a parking space, and I should never make obscene gestures at someone cutting me off in traffic.
I’m not prone to road rage, but I asked why he felt so strongly about the subject. He said, “Because you never know when you’re inviting a psychopath into your life.”
Rachel, the protagonist of the new film Unhinged, should have listened to my GBI buddy. Early in the film, she and her son are waiting in bumper-to-bumper traffic as she tries to get her son to school on time.
The bonehead in the pickup truck in front of her is sitting still after the light turns green. Rachel gives him a long honk of her horn and whips around him into another lane. This happens every day on countless roads and highways across America.
Unfortunately for Rachel and everyone she knows, she’s just invited a psychopath into their lives. The nameless driver of the pickup truck (Russell Crowe) is not amused by Rachel’s “rude” behavior. As he taunts her through her open window, she steadfastly refuses to apologize. So Nameless decides he needs to make an example of her and show her “what a really bad day looks like.”
What comes next is the most ludicrous thriller I’ve seen in years. Coincidence on top of coincidence piles up until the film becomes laugh-out-loud silly. Even the “subtext” of the film is as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face. Everywhere the characters go, the televisions are broadcasting stories about road rage and people with hair triggers attacking one another with only the slightest provocation.
In case you’re not getting the message, the opening credits are a montage of news stories about random acts of violence and killing sprees. The newscasters drone on and on about people with short fuses who are ready to explode.
Unhinged also feels incredibly tone deaf in these troubling times. Workplace shootings and acts of domestic terrorism are largely on hold thanks to social distancing, but Unhinged feels the need to remind us that our mass casualty culture will be returning any day now.
Watching an angry white man kill everyone he comes into contact with doesn’t exactly feel like a fun time at the movies in 2020. I guess the only redeeming aspect of the film is that no people of color are murdered, and racism is not a character motivation.
Russell Crowe used to be a star you could count on. He was electrifying in L.A. Confidential and Gladiator. He gave a nuanced performance way beyond his 35 years when he played corporate whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand in Michael Mann’s 1999 film The Insider. He was one of those reliable actors who always chose interesting projects. His name being attached to a film was reason enough to see it.
How times have changed. The Australian Oscar nominee grunts and groans his way through Unhinged. When he has dialogue, he sounds like he’s one-fourth southern, one-fourth Midwestern and one-half confused about who his character is and how he should make him laugh. His character is so hopelessly generic it actually makes sense that he doesn’t have a name.
With the release of Unhinged, we’re witnessing the beginning of the Bruce Willis-ification of Russell Crowe. If you have a couple million dollars, Crowe will show up for a week or two and give an incomprehensible performance in your straight-to-video movie.
It’s ironic that in the current pandemic Unhinged is actually playing in theaters instead of on the small screen where it belongs. To be blunt, it’s an insult to well-made VOD films.
As theaters begin to re-open in this COVID world, film critics are pondering the ethics of recommending films that will be playing in theaters. Is there really a film worth risking your health over? Of course, there isn’t.
My reviews are meant to evaluate a film as a piece of entertainment and, in many instances, as a piece of art. But, when it comes to Unhinged, I wouldn’t risk a hangnail, much less exposure to the coronavirus, to see this film.