NEW YORK—Russell Crowe goes rogue in the brutal road rage thriller “Unhinged” (Solstice).
In the absence of any effort at character development or any realistic restraint on the mayhem that results, what we’re left with, under Derrick Borte’s direction, is a bloody killing spree meant to justify retaliation in kind.
There’s a bold shamelessness to the fact that screenwriter Carl Ellsworth doesn’t even deign to give the crazed antagonist of his tale a name. Instead, Crowe’s stereotypical angry white guy is simply known as The Man.
Opening scenes show us that The Man has hit rock bottom in his descent into truculent powerlessness. His ex-wife, for instance, is about to sell the family home out from under him.
In an ever-so-slightly overwrought response to this misfortune, The Man proceeds to break into the house, slaughter his estranged spouse and another occupant with an ax, then set fire to the dwelling. Tut-tut.
Now that the audience has been shown just what he’s capable of, The Man goes on to encounter his next victim, hairdresser and mom Rachel (Caren Pistorius). Having overslept, Rachel is desperate at finding herself becalmed in Los Angeles’ notorious traffic. So, when The Man, whose vehicle is directly ahead of hers, fails to notice that the light has turned green, Rachel gets testy with him, honking her horn.
She then compounds this fatal error by stopping at a nearby gas station where The Man, having followed her, succeeds in stealing her cellphone. Since, as Hollywood never tires of reminding us, excessive dependence on electronics make us all vulnerable, possession of this device enables The Man to launch his fanatical campaign to ruin Rachel’s life.
He sets his deadly sights first on Rachel’s best friend, Andy (Jimmi Simpson), then on her brother, Fred (Austin P. McKenzie), and finally on her young son, Kyle (Gabriel Bateman). What’s a mama bear to do, in the face of such a challenge, but fight The Man?
Along with the two-dimensional stick figures who populate his script, Ellsworth gives us various warnings about rising social tension that turn out to be as hollow as they are pompous. There’s no moral equivalence, after all, between the momentary curtness of Rachel, driving what appears to be a Volvo, and the rampaging fury of her gas-guzzling SUV owner of an opponent.
The film contains gruesome, gory violence, a few uses of profanity, about a dozen milder oaths, frequent rough and crude language and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
By John Mulderig