Russell Crowe snaps, crackles and pops as road-raging killer in 'Unhinged'
"Unhinged" -- ★ ★
How can a movie this stupid be so diabolically irresistible?
More to the point: How can a movie this stupid -- and assumes viewers are even stupider -- keep dragging our protesting eyeballs back to the screen every time we attempt to look away?
The answer: visceral quality kills and Russell Crowe.
The man who won an unearned Best Actor Oscar in Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" turns in a performance so rancidly hammy and full-throttle villainous that it transfixes us, seizes us by our emo lapels and refuses to let go.
It's like he's making up for his woefully underplayed singing antagonist, Inspector Javert, from 2012's "Les Miserables."
In Derrick Borte's ridiculous road-rage thriller "Unhinged," Crowe plays a frumpy, middled-aged bearded guy officially named in the credits as "The Man."
Driving a monster pickup truck (with the Ford logo neatly hidden), he pulls up next to Rachel (Caren Pistorius), a harried, stressed-out mom dealing with a nasty divorce, a sick mother, not enough money and piles of bills. She just wants to get her teenager Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school.
After a near-accident with the Man, she exchanges words with him, and he apologizes.
She refuses to do the same.
Oh, oh. If only she had seen the beginning of the movie where the Man kills a screaming woman and man (presumably his wife and her lover) with a claw hammer before turning their house into a bonfire.
"I don't think you know what a bad day is," the Man hisses at Rachel. "But you're going to find out!"
So begins Borte's ludicrous ode to 1980s maniac movies filtered through Steven Spielberg's made-for-TV road rage classic "Duel."
Only instead of an isolated stretch of western roads, "Unhinged" takes place in a metropolitan area where during rush hour, Rachel can still find a wide-open lane so she can crank her clunker Volvo up to warp speed.
When the Man starts killing her friends and family members in inventively brutal ways (the butter knife in the nape is a doozy), Rachel waits a whole 66 minutes into the story before actually calling the cops.
Borte keeps the action quick and lively, totally unbridled by logic, physics or common sense.
Carl Ellsworth dumbs-down his screenplay, explaining the obvious, and letting the Man articulate his feeble monstrous motivations. (He says he suffered "an invisible life" causing him to wreak "violence and retribution.")
Ellsworth has a fondness for verbal cliches ("Trust me" "What does that even mean?") and has Rachel toss her cookies, Hollywood's favorite way to show upset -- outside of someone smashing a phone after hearing bad news on it.
Wait. She does that, too.
• • •
Starring: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman
Directed by: Derrick Borte
Other: A Solstice Studios release. In theaters. Rated R for language, violence. 90 minutes