I have a soft spot for fat Russell Crowe. The younger slimmer Russell Crowe was a total badass, but now that he’s older, bigger, and more sedate, he’s sporting an avuncular gruffness. Instead of trying to impress everyone with how tough he is, he resorts to the burnished charm of a guy who used to be tough. As Dr. Jekyll in Universal’s ill-fated Monsterverse, or the token white guy in Man with the Iron Fists, or the crazy uncle in The True Story of the Ned Kelly Gang, his grizzled teddy bear quality has served him well. Watch him considering himself on Google, and you’ll see that Shane Black pegged him perfectly as a soft-boiled detective in The Nice Guys.
But Unhinged, an awkward and uncomfortably mean-spirited thriller, wants to pretend it has cast a Romper Stomper as its villain. It wants a scary and tough Russell Crowe, one so badass that he can rampage across a city murdering and raging because a lady honked her horn at him. But what it gets is a fat, sweaty, wild-eyed Trump voter whose unhinged pyscho schtick is as unconvincing and inconsistent as his Southern accent. He’s less Max Cady and more John Goodman shouting about what you get when you fuck a stranger in the ass. Same performance, totally different tones.
In addition to its casting misstep, Unhinged has boatloads of dumb throughout. The Ford logo on the front of Russell Crowe’s truck conspicuously hidden by a grill because Ford Motor Company probably doesn’t want their product associated with psychos. Random car wrecks as if the production had to spend its car wreck budget or lose it. A kid’s Fortnite strategy invoked as the way to defeat an attacking psycho. An out-of-nowhere comedic one-liner when the bad guy is ultimately defeated. The final lesson learned after all the murder and mayhem being “don’t honk your horn or it might make someone mad”. Then, finally, a breathy ladysong cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper over the end credits. Why Don’t Fear the Reaper? Who knows.
It’s all so tasteless and exploitative. “He could happen to you,” the tagline pleads, imploring you to tap into your fear that some psycho could flip out at any moment and make your life a living hell of inept cops, overacting, and plot contrivances. Urban thrillers are increasingly implausible in this era of cell phones. Poor movies like Unhinged have to struggle comedically with the question “why don’t you just call 911?” Meanwhile, it careens wildly into horror movie territory, playing crassly on the trope of the vulnerable young woman stalked by a psycho. For a movie that plays more artfully with that trope, with fascinating performances by the victim and stalker, check out Alone, directed by John Hyams. Alone knows that actors can pick up where plot contrivances leave off. Unhinged just leaves us all dangling.