LOW ROAD RAGE

Crowe flies off the han­dle in the flimsy stalker ‘Un­hinged’

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - RICHARD ROEPER MOVIE COLUM­NIST rroeper@sun­times.com | @RichardERo­eper

Years from now, “Un­hinged” will be re­mem­bered as the an­swer to a trivia ques­tion: What was the first ma­jor movie re­lease in Amer­ica when the­aters be­gan to re­open dur­ing the pan­demic of 2020?

It’ll take a lot less time than that for the ac­tual con­tent and qual­ity of the film to dis­si­pate from the pop cul­ture land­scape. De­spite a fe­ro­cious, screen-chew­ing per­for­mance from Rus­sell Crowe as a ma­niac on a killing spree and some well-ex­e­cuted B-movie thrills and chills and (blood) spills, “Un­hinged” never rises to the level of sim­i­larly themed films such as “Fall­ing Down” and “Chang­ing Lanes” and Steven Spiel­berg’s “Duel.” The broad-stroke so­cial com­men­tary quickly gives way to a grimy and grue­some stalker movie with the cam­era lin­ger­ing on scenes of bru­tal vi­o­lence — some shown in ex­cru­ci­at­ing close-up, oth­ers right out of a “Fi­nal Des­ti­na­tion” movie.

Crowe is in XXXL mode as Tom Cooper, a hulk­ing, sweat­ing, in­tim­i­dat­ing bruiser who looks like an NFL line­backer who has let him­self go. In the open­ing se­quence, Tom ex­its his gray pickup truck in a pour­ing rain, bashes down the front door of his ex-wife’s house and kills her and her part­ner be­fore torch­ing the place. Cue the open­ing cred­its: a mon­tage of vi­ral videos of vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions, as we hear snip­pets of news broad­casts about how “in­ci­vil­ity is a ma­jor is­sue in Amer­ica” and “stress lev­els are at an all-time high,” All true, now more than ever, but the point is de­liv­ered with a sledge­ham­mer. (The pound­ing sound­track doesn’t help.)

Cut to scenes of the har­ried morn­ing home life of Rachel (Caren Pis­to­rius), a re­cently di­vorced mom who re­cently has lost her sa­lon and al­ways seems to be run­ning late as she fer­ries her son

Kyle (Gabriel Bate­man) around. When a stressed-out Rachel finds her­self be­hind a gray pickup truck that doesn’t move when the light turns green, she lays on the horn twice be­fore roar­ing around the ve­hi­cle and ges­tur­ing at the driver. Big mis­take, Rachel. Huge. Yep, that’s Tom be­hind the wheel of that pickup truck — his shirt still bear­ing a few specks of blood from the predawn dou­ble mur­der. He catches up to Rachel at the next stop­light, and ex­plains she should have em­ployed a gen­tle “cour­tesy tap” on the horn in­stead of such angry and ag­gres­sive honk­ing, and he’d ap­pre­ci­ate an apol­ogy. When Rachel ex­presses zero sym­pa­thy for Tom when he says he’s been hav­ing a hard time lately (“Wel­come to the club,” she replies), Tom re­torts, “I don’t think you even know what a bad day is, but you’re go­ing to find out. You hear me, miss? You’re go­ing to f--ing learn.”

Tom ain’t play­ing. We don’t know any­thing about this guy’s back­story, but he seems to be a pretty slick crim­i­nal op­er­a­tor. He man­ages to swipe Rachel’s phone at a gas sta­tion and put a burner phone in her glove com­part­ment, so he can tele­phon­i­cally ter­ror­ize her. And now that he has ac­cess to Rachel’s text mes­sages and voice­mails, he be­gins to hunt down peo­ple close to Rachel, in some cases ending them on the spot as he ze­roes in on those who mat­ter most to her, telling her, “Let’s play Rus­sian Roulette with your con­tact list!” and even mak­ing her choose the next vic­tim.

That’s ad­mit­tedly cre­ative (al­beit nasty) stuff, and di­rec­tor Der­rick Borte does a solid job of stag­ing some ac­tion-packed high­way chases and crashes, not to men­tion a few creepy and tense mo­ments, e.g., when Rachel’s best friend and di­vorce at­tor­ney Andy (Jimmi Simp­son) re­al­izes the ami­able fella across the ta­ble from him at a diner is ac­tu­ally the guy stalk­ing Rachel.

Rus­sell Crowe is an A-list star in a B-movie, but to his credit it never feels as if he’s slum­ming it. Crowe’s twangy-voiced ma­niac isn’t a fully de­vel­oped char­ac­ter or even some kind of sym­bolic fig­ure of White Male Rage — he’s an in­sane spree killer who uses every­thing from his pickup truck to a cig­a­rette lighter to his meaty bare hands to maim and kill peo­ple in broad day­light.

For all its early and su­per­fi­cial sig­nals of say­ing some­thing about the stress­ful times we live in and how a sin­gle mo­ment of con­flict can have life-al­ter­ing con­se­quences, by the time we hear a Chill­wave ver­sion of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” over the clos­ing cred­its, “Un­hinged” has re­vealed it­self to be about as deep and res­o­nant and log­i­cal as a sec­ond-tier “Hal­loween” movie.

SOLSTICE STU­DIOS

Slighted at a stop­light, the ma­ni­a­cal Tom (Rus­sell Crowe) de­votes him­self to ha­rass­ing the of­fender in “Un­hinged.”

SOLSTICE STU­DIOS

Stressed-out Rachel (Caren Pis­to­rius) is tor­mented by a driver she of­fended in “Un­hinged.”

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