[Screen It]


(2020) (Caren Pistorius, Russell Crowe) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A woman must contend with a stranger taking road rage to the extreme as he sets out to kill everyone near and dear to her.

Rachel (CAREN PISTORIUS) is a nearly divorced beautician and mother to teenager Kyle (GABRIEL BATEMAN). Her brother, Fred (AUSTIN P. MCKENZIE), and his girlfriend, Mary (JULIENE JOYNER), are currently staying with them as Rachel tries to juggle work, home life, and having her lawyer friend, Andy (JIMMI SIMPSON), contending with demands from her soon-to-be ex-husband. With all of that on her plate, she has no time for inconveniences and thus lays on her horn -- while late getting Kyle to school -- when a truck in front of her doesn't move with a green traffic light.

Unbeknownst to her, the never-identified Man (RUSSELL CROWE) driving that truck hasn't had a great day either, what with having just murdered his ex and her lover and burning the house down. When Rachel refuses to exchange apologies with him over the horn honking, the stranger becomes completely unhinged and takes road rage to the extreme. All of which evolves to the point where he sets out to kill everyone important to her once he has possession of her phone. From that point on, she does what she can to protect Kyle, her brother, their mother, and more from harm.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

Back in 1971, and before "Jaws," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Jurassic Park" turned him into a household name, Steven Spielberg cut his feature-length film teeth on a made for TV movie known as "Duel."

In that, Dennis Weaver plays an ordinary salesman who makes the mistake of overtaking a big rig on the highway, only to have that mostly unseen and never identified driver not take kindly to that and thus decide to harass and chase the much smaller car. A lean and effective thriller, it was the first movie depiction of road rage that I ever saw (long before that term became popular).

Nearly a quarter of a century later, director Joel Schumacher delivered a different look at masculine rage with "Falling Down." In that black comedy thriller, Michael Douglas plays a man having a bad day while trying to make his way across town to his ex-wife's house for their daughter's birthday. Mostly wanting to keep to himself, he lets loose on those who bother him, thus providing cathartic thrills and chills for viewers.

If those two films had a cinematic baby, it might just grow up into "Unhinged." In this road-rage thriller from screenwriter Carl Ellsworth and director Derrick Borte, Russell Crowe plays a man who likewise is having a bad day. Having just murdered his ex-wife and her lover before burning the house down, he's just minding his own business when single mom Rachel (Caren Pistorius) lays on the horn for him not proceeding forward with a green traffic light before driving around him.

Wanting an apology for her not giving him a courtesy tap on the horn first, he becomes enraged when she refuses -- after all, she's having a bad day herself -- and decides to go all "Duel" on her, albeit in a slightly smaller track but with the same general intentions.

What follows is a pedal to the metal road thriller that pretty much never lets up on the gas once Rachel drives away from the first altercation up through the inevitable last one (although I suppose a creative screenwriter could clearly get around the apparent finality in order to crank out "Unhinged 2: The Doors Come Off").

Fans of pulpy, B-movie excess might mindlessly eat up what's flung our way, but anyone expecting any sort of realistic let alone commentary or social satire on the state of toxic masculinity might be disappointed. That's especially true as things get more far-fetched and evolve -- or devolve -- into a sort of horror movie bogeyman sort of way.

Crowe literally and figuratively throws himself into the role, looking like he ate in its entirety a past character the Oscar-winning actor has previously played (apparently carrying around the extra weight -- and then some -- that he gained to play Roger Ailes in the TV miniseries "The Loudest Voice").

But he's little more than a straight-up monster here with no nuance and no character development. Faring better is Pistorius as our beleaguered protagonist who gets us to care about her safety, while Gabriel Bateman is decent as her teenage son who's along for the ride and isn't having any luck of recent with good male role models. Everyone else is pretty much meat grinder fodder for the road rage monster.

If that's your thing, you might just enjoy this ride. Yet, and although it's an effective thriller for a while, things get progressively bumpier the further this love child of "Duel and "Falling Down" goes until the wheels are nearly coming off. "Unhinged" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 17, 2020 / Posted August 21, 2020

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