Saturday, November 21, 2020

Road to Ignition: UNHINGED

Unhinged is a road rage thriller partially built out of what’s broken in a particular kind of modern American white man. It’s also a movie with some nifty car crash sequences that director Derrick Borte clearly took time to crunch and shatter with real heft and oomph. Too bad, then, that the movie only works in fits and starts. At its center is the glowering villain played by Russell Crowe, perhaps exorcising his own reputation for a short fuse. He’s been in full-on character actor mode for at least a decade now, and it suits him. Here he’s a tower of solid bulk, menacing as his voice tumbles down to a growling grumble. Behind the wheel of one of those enormous pickups with an engine so loud it’ll rattle your windows when it drives by, he stares down a woman (Caren Pistorius) who dares to honk at him and demand she apologize. She doesn’t, nor should she have to, but he takes that as provocation to ruin her day. The whole thing runs barely 80 minutes as he stalks and chases—when it’s in lean Duel mode it’s a thing of junky concise effectiveness. To pad the runtime, however, the screenplay by Carl Ellsworth (Disturbia) turns him from a run-of-the-mill psycho into a burgeoning slasher villain. In the opening scene we see him murder his ex-wife and her new husband, burning down their house and going on the run. It’s brutal stuff. Later, he’ll take detours from the chase to tie up, torture, intimidate, and kill a variety of his road rage victim’s closest allies. He wants to make her hurt. It’s a nasty piece of work—especially as he’s declaiming his own victimhood, declaring women to be the ruin of his life.

He’s a white middle-aged misogynist, shaking with violent potential simply because he feels life hasn’t given him what he was owed. And, of course, he lacks all introspection that would allow him to take some stock of his own actions as a cause of this perceived lack. All he needs is a red ball cap to complete the sociopolitical insight. That the movie spins him up into larger-than-life while letting Crowe fill in his pathetic rage is a strange mix. It works, but only sometimes. If the movie was just a few degrees more perceptive and gutsy — instead of just clodhopping and nasty —it’d be up there with the Terry O’Quinn classic Reaganomics thriller The Stepfather. The movie is a blunt, bludgeoning instrument—effectively covered, briskly plotted, efficiently acted in broad genre types, but still clumsy in its unfolding. There are too many reasons for it to take detours or let the foot off the gas. It’s rare that a mere 80 minutes feels draggy, but there we are nonetheless. It serves up just enough fun car bits and a committed central performance that I wished it had more to offer. But if you want to see a cop car t-boned and pancaked by a big truck, here’s the movie for you. Or you can just see that in the trailer.

No comments:

Post a Comment