Ah, psycho killers. What actor doesn’t want to play one? Russell Crowe gets his chance in “Unhinged,” an unthrilling thriller as routine and implausibly imagined as an unwanted pregnancy.
While the trailer for “Unhinged” leads you to believe this is just a mash-up of “Falling Down” and “Duel” (an angry man using road rage to lash out at a driver who’s offended him), “Unhinged” literally throws gasoline onto the film’s fire. Before the opening credits, Tom Cooper (Crowe) commits a double murder and covers it up with arson, making him the top story on the morning news.
Watching the news is what Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) is doing while he waits for his mom Rachel (Caren Pistorius) to take him to school. Rachel, going through a divorce and finding she’s just lost a lucrative client being late while stuck in traffic on the way to Kyle’s school, is on the verge of becoming unhinged herself. Stopped behind an unmoving car as the light turns green, Rachel leans on her car horn and offends the driver in front of her. The driver turns out to be none other than Combustible Coop, who demands an apology pulling up to Rachel’s side moments later. After a pithy exchange turns out not to meet Cooper’s politeness quid pro quo, he promises Rachel he’ll teach her what having a bad day is all about (basically the equivalent of a parent telling a tantruming child they’ll give them a reason to cry).
What follows in “Unhinged” gives us a reason to cry. While the opening credits allow for the excuse that the police are understaffed, certainly someone put out an APB on Cooper. As the top story on TV, Cooper brazenly rides around town in his own truck used at the morning murders. Can no cop catch him? Is Cooper using reverse psychology, thinking the police would think he’s skipped town?
While the police force looks inept, Cooper’s crime spree continues as he hunts Rachel. Popping hydrocodone like Pez candy, Cooper adds vehicular homicide and a hands-on murder in a crowded diner to his resume. Unbelievably, Cooper spends more time with the body at the diner than De Niro did with the baseball bat-bludgeoned body in “The Untouchables.” Will anyone be able to stop Cooper?
In a lot of ways, “Unhinged” fells like a retread of “The Hitcher” only “Hitcher” had more wit involved. “Hitcher’s” John Ryder (Rutger Hauer) was a psycho killer with a death wish plan: pin his murders on hapless Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell), forcing Halsey to kill him to prove his innocence. In “Unhinged,” Cooper’s plan is only to seek retribution on Rachel’s impoliteness with a careless disregard for law enforcement. As Ryder, Hauer oozed menace. The only oozing Crowe manages to do is maneuver his sizeable frame in and out of Cooper’s truck.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Russell Crowe and the hair-trigger temper he showed in what I feel was his best role- Bud White in “L.A. Confidential”- is on full display. But his choice to play Tom Cooper with a soft Southern accent reminiscent of “Cape Fear’s” psycho Max Cady (right down to using the word “counselor”) comes off more like John Goodman’s hotheaded Walter Sobchak in “The Big Lebowski.” Just like watching Crowe butcher a Cockney accent as Dr. Jekyll in “The Mummy,” his drawl in “Unhinged” sounds like Foghorn Leghorn on lithium.
If “Unhinged” had cleverness behind the carnage, it would have been a fun B-movie. Instead, like the film itself, Crowe’s psycho killer is fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-forgettable.