Review: ‘Unhinged’ is no reason to return to a movie theater

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“We hope you are as excited as we are,” goes the promotional email from the studio, “about bringing the beloved pastime of going to the movies back into America’s lives.”

Well, yes, of course we are.

But then we watch the film. And we wonder …. Really? THIS movie?

It’s more than a little disturbing that “Unhinged,” essentially an angry-white-male revenge flick, will be the first wide release to invite patrons back to theaters since the coronavirus pandemic shut them down. Because, well, besides an energetically committed (no pun intended) performance from Russell Crowe, “Unhinged” comes off as a frankly mediocre effort, with no apparent point other than titillating (but somehow tedious) gore, misogynistic rage, and endless (though impressive) car crashes.

It also lacks any discernible trace of deeper social meaning, or even — which might have saved it — a whiff of self-aware wit. So, again, THIS is the movie that’s going to proudly welcome us back to the multiplex?

The real question is whether it’s even worth watching from your couch — where you don’t have to worry about distancing, let alone pay for parking, the babysitter or a vat of popcorn.

Let’s start with an odd filmmaking decision by director Derrick Borte and screenwriter Carl Ellsworth: In a brutal prologue, we see Crowe’s character beginning his day (his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day) at 4 a.m., in his truck outside the home where he seemingly lived with his ex-wife. He removes his wedding ring, exits his vehicle with an ax and a jug of gasoline, and proceeds to bludgeon the occupants to death and set the home on fire (because this appears in the trailer, it hardly seems a spoiler).

OK, so this is a very troubled man — or Man, as he is identified in the script, with no name attached. But why start the action here? It means we don’t have any mystery, and thus narrative tension, as to how far Man can and will go. Maybe this is why the 90-minute running time will still feel bloated.

We then get a documentary-style lesson, during opening credits, on the plague of road rage. We hear news commentators saying deep things about anger, like “When you’re very angry you lose a lot of self-control.” Also: “People have so much coming at them that their brains can’t handle it.” (This is pre-pandemic. You want to shout at the screen: “Tell us about it!”)

But, you think, maybe there’s something interesting to explore? The precipitating incident is simple: Harried mom Rachel (Caren Pistorius, doing her best to differentiate levels of fear behind the wheel), is going through her own divorce and trying to raise a school-aged son (a sensitive Gabriel Bateman, who like everyone here deserves a better movie). Of course she’s late getting him to school, because she’s a harried single mom in the movies.

Stopped at a red light, Rachel honks at the guy who fails to move when the light changes, then flips him off. This is, as Julia Roberts would say in “Pretty Woman,” a big, huge mistake. He asks her to apologize. She doesn’t. And the rampage begins.

Other than the slightly creative touch of having Man play Russian Roulette with the contacts on Rachel’s stolen phone — even this, though, is clumsily telegraphed in an earlier scene — there are few surprises. And despite the film being dubbed a “psychological thriller,” one is hard pressed to find the psychology. As for a moral — well, judging from the end, it seems to be: “Don’t intentionally enrage a big crazy angry guy in a truck.” OK, noted.

At certain points that strain all credulity, you’re just hoping Crowe will look up and wink, and maybe whisper his famous “Gladiator” line: “Are you not entertained?” Because then we could laugh along with him — as we can with a humorous tweet he recently sent, promoting the film.

Alas, no such luck. Follow Crowe on Twitter. Find another film to bring you back to the theater.

“Unhinged,” a Solstice Studios release, has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for strong violent content, and language throughout. ” Running time: 90 minutes. One star out of four.

MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.