The script of Unhinged (Solstice, 8.21), the Russell Crowe road-rage film that’s been theatrically postponed 16 or 17 times, basically stinks. The story just shovels it on, and all you’re left with is cruelty, ugliness, sadism and just fucking nutso behavior. It’s been decently directed and edited, but compelling internals are completely missing. No wit, no humor, no compelling theme, no humanity, no pivots, no grace, no cleverness…nothing.
Yes, it’s been competently…you could even say smartly directed by Derrick Borte. But to what end?
I want to put this delicately because crude overstatement is always a bad approach for any writer, but Unhinged is shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, double-shit, triple-shit, quadruple-shit, dogshit, cowshit, horseshit, catshit, mouse shit, raccoon shit, elephant shit, giraffe shit, hyena shit, etc. Which is a roundabout way of saying it makes you feel like shit.
Because it takes a fascinating, universally understood premise of the modern age and completely scuttles it as far as Crowe’s character, a bearded beach-ball named Tom Cooper, is concerned. The premise, of course, is that with enough anxiety and pressure we could all become road ragers or hair-trigger types because life is extra-stressful these days and so on.
The Unhinged trailers (which we’ve all been looking at for months) have made it clear that Crowe will be playing a rage-hound, but not, we quickly discover, in some kind of “Michael Douglas buckling under the weight of a cruel world in Falling Down” way.
The key with a film of this sort is to universalize the situation. That way the audience can invest their own experiences and maybe recognize or (heaven forbid!) feel a little something.
The filmmakers could have done the usual-usual by introducing Cooper as some kind of victim whose cork is about to pop — some guy who’s been hurt or fired or fucked over or whatever. And then watch him snap and unravel. Perhaps with a dab of humor or an occasional wink of the eye. A familiar strategy, yes, but one that would have engaged to some extent.
Instead, Carl Ellsworth‘s script announces right from the start that Tom Cooper is basically Karl “Madman” Mundt — a brutal murderer on meds, a froth-mouthed menace to society, a sweaty maniac. Aaarrrgghhh! Look at my glaring eyes! Look at how angry I am and what an out-of-control fatass I’ve become! Remember when I gained weight to play Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider? Well, I’m at least 150 pounds heavier now and I don’t give a shit because all I want to do is vent! As in kill, torture, chase, terrorize, set people on fire, etc.
So when Tom gets into a relatively minor traffic altercation with divorced mom Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorius) and her antsy, sitting-in-the-back seat son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman), there’s no intrigue or tension or anything because we know where this is going. And then your lids begin to lower and you start checking your Twitter feed.
The incident begins when Rachel honks too loudly and aggressively at Cooper’s pickup truck when he doesn’t quickly react when the light turns green. Then she refuses to apologize when Cooper pulls up alongside, explains that he’s been having a bad day, offers an apology and asks Rachel to reciprocate. Because of this one tragic mistake….ahhh, forget it. It’s obvious from the get-go that Unhinged doesn’t care about understandable motivations and provocations. It’s just a soul-less, crazy-ass exploitation film.
It has one good line at the very end that I won’t spoil.
I was exaggerating about the theatrical opening of Unhinged being postponed or shifted 16 or 17 times. It was actually changed five times. The date was originally 8.28.20, then was pushed back to 9.4.20. Last May the release was advanced to 7.1.20(i.e., “the first film to test the waters as theaters try to rebound from the pandemic”). It was then pushed back to 7.10 and then 7.31. In late July the opening was once again delayed, this time to 8.21.20 (i.e., three days hence).
Unhinged opened almost exactly a month ago (7.16) in Germany, and then in the rest of Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, Asia and Latin America on 7.31.
Right now the Rotten Tomatoes score is around 50%. Friendo: “It’s horrible.”