“I honked my horn at him...” says harried single parent Rachel (Caren Pistorius) in Unhinged. “...And now he’s road-raging,” replies a gas-station attendant, handily summing up the plot of this cat-and-mouse B-thriller.
‘He’ is Russell Crowe’s anger-fueled antagonist, credited simply as ‘The Man’, as if he’s the symbolic manifestation of all the footage of real-life fury we see at the start of Derrick Borte’s (American Dreamer, The Joneses) film. The montage of madness suggests Unhinged is striving for relevance. But the movie – sold as the first big-name UK cinema release since March – is less likely to remind viewers of today’s problems than a slew of old movies from Duel to Falling Down to Breakdown to Changing Lanes.
It also, of course, harks back to Crowe’s last pre-A-list outing as a baddie, in 1995 cyber-actioner Virtuosity. There, he was a product of technology; here, he turns it to his malicious advantage, swiping Rachel’s phone in order to “play Russian Roulette with your contacts list”.
It’s but one of many atrocities The Man commits. Even before his fateful encounter at the traffic lights with Rachel (where her refusal to say sorry opens up a world of pain), we’ve seen him express his inner Jack Torrance, seemingly ruling out any prospect of redemption.
Buckle up, then, for the guilty thrill of seeing a star who’s played square-jawed icons from Robin Hood to Superman’s dad going full Mad Maximus. Crowe’s snarling, gleeful willingness to commit is just as well, given that Unhinged follows a narrative route riddled with signposts and p(l)otholes.
The Man hops from place to place like Marvel’s Nightcrawler; his ability to elude the law becomes increasingly ludicrous (despite some very public acts of horror). Still, you continue to root for Pistorius’ relatable everywoman all the way to the final showdown, which walks a knife-edge between crowd-pleasing and camp silliness.