Unhinged (2020)

AUGUST 23, 2020


After Relic I swore off seeing new movies at the drive-in, but I made an exception for Unhinged, because it just seemed too fitting. To recap, in addition to what I feel is subpar presentation for the films themselves, the people around me at the drive-in are far too obnoxious with their headlights and late arrivals, making it hard to focus on the movie. Of course, these "villains" are (let's hope) not TRYING to be distracting, and apparently it's just too much to ask people to figure out how their headlights work (or whether or not they can be entirely turned off at all as long as the car is turned on for the radio), and I know they - like me - are only there because it's the only option.

So it just made sense to watch Unhinged there, because it's about a guy (Russell Crowe) who loses his shit when the driver behind him (Caren Pistorius) leans on her horn after he neglects to notice the light turn green, and decides to teach her a lesson. It's the same kind of situation at the drive-in - are these people jerks, as I see them, and need to be yelled at? Or innocently just trying to find some amusement in this shithole world and not even aware that their headlights are the ones making the already shitty screen look worse? Do they deserve my scorn, or should I cut them a break?

Had the movie dealt with that gray area, it might have been more interesting, something more along the lines of Changing Lanes. But the situation as presented makes it clear who is in the wrong. In real life, we've all been on both sides of this equation, and it's the same thing every time - when we are honking, we know how long the light has been on before they looked up from their phone or whatever. But when we're the one being honked at, we have no idea, and since we're all the heroes in our own stories, always assume the driver behind us was just being an impatient ass and it had been less than a second. That's not the case here, as we get to see that Pistorius' Rachel actually gave him plenty of time (ten seconds, I think?) before honking, and then he STILL doesn't move, so there's no gray area - after the first honk, we know he's just being an ass by not moving. Team Rachel!

Oh and also the opening scene has him murder two people and blow their house up, so it's not like a Falling Down kinda thing where the guy just snapped after too many aggrievances - he was already nuts. I had to wonder if this opening was a late decision, because it doesn't really fit much else about the movie and is only referenced in a few news reports. We don't see Crowe in the truck when she honks at him, and when he catches up to her at the next light, it seems like it's supposed to be a grand reveal for the Academy Award winning actor, as opposed to seeing him right off the bat, killing people in a crazed rage before apparently calming down and driving around the Louisiana suburbs.

Plus it's a sub-90 minute film with three credited editors, so it's not totally out of the question that there was some tinkering. Indeed, there is a curious lack of police involvement throughout the movie, as if someone said "Hey, cops aren't "in" right now and we're trying to make this the first movie people go see when theaters reopen - let's limit their involvement!" At one point Crowe murders a guy in broad daylight, in a cafe, and yet somehow no cops show up? The amount of chaos he causes during the day suggests huge manhunts would be ongoing, but we don't even see a cruiser parked outside of Rachel's own house, long after her involvement has been made clear (due to a threat to her son's school and an attack on her brother and his girlfriend). I don't think these filmmakers are that dumb (they would presumably set the film in the outskirts somewhere to explain the lack of police, not a traffic-addled New Orleans), so I'd be very curious to see if there was a longer/alternate cut at one point before real world events forced some retooling.

All that said, what's left is a total riot if you're of the right mind for B-movie trash fare. I laughed out loud several times at Crowe's carnage, finding it very much in tune with the sort of '70s exploitation fare I'd be cheering for at the New Beverly if it was open. There are two fairly impressive car chase/battle scenes with a respectable amount of flipped/crushed cars, offering the sort of vehicular mayhem we used to take for granted but rarely see anymore (and when we do, it's far more CGI-"enhanced" than the largely practical work we get here). There's even some gore, including a pretty gnarly scissors to the eye gag that would make Jason Voorhees proud (incidentally, Rachel's son is played by the kid from that terrific Wolfie's Just Fine video that was homaging the hedge trimmer scene from New Beginning).

Plus, Crowe barely ever plays a full on villain like this, so it was a hoot to watch him growl and chew the scenery. Almost nothing about the role required his talents or even his intensity - the diner scene is pretty much the only time he has full on dialogue, with the rest just being incidental, "Now you're gonna get it!" kinda stuff. But in a way that just made it all the better - on the page, it could have been played by some lunkhead from the WWE or whatever, but instead they got an acclaimed actor - and didn't class it up for him! I love that! Here's hoping he can get a meaty villain role in a major film again someday (I'm pretty sure this would have gone VOD had there been any competition for them to worry about).

I also love that the movie has what I instantly dubbed as "Fortniteshadowing". Rachel's kid is a fan of the game, and her, trying to feign interest in her son's hobbies, listens to him talk about his new strategy that involves distracting the opponent with what seems like an easy kill only to have a partner come at him from a hidden spot behind. There is, of course, no question that this will be exactly what she does later, but as I spent half the day trying to understand my kid's new obsession with Minecraft (and calm him down when he corrupted his save file and thus lost the house he had made), I was charmed by this kind of plotting. Plus, as always, I am happy when they reference a real world game instead of making one up that would mean nothing. Fortnite is good shorthand as "something kids do", and adds that sort of real world connection that these things often lack.

So it's a pretty fun "turn your brain off and laugh at the silliness" kinda movie, but if drive-ins aren't an option I implore you to stay home and wait for VOD, where you can also add alcohol to the mix if you so choose (only your passengers can do that at the drive-in!). Solstice's touting of being the first movie back, and even encouraging traditional theater-going, is pretty gross in my opinion, not to mention irresponsible. No movie (certainly not this, or Tenet) is worth risking your health or anyone else's if you happen to be an asymptomatic unknowing carrier, though given 45's continued approval I guess I shouldn't assume that people who know full well that they have the virus would care enough about anyone else to stay home instead of infecting them. At least you'll know which ones they are at the screening - they will be the ones who assume Crowe's character is the hero of the film. And if you CAN hit up a drive-in, please - bring a portable FM radio! You don't have to worry about your headlights OR your battery dying, and in turn will not have to worry about a real life road rage incident from the guy in front of you who kept being blinded by your ignorance.

What say you?

P.S. I listened to In Utero on the way in honor of this strings version of "Heart Shaped Box" - can they do the whole album like that?

1 comment:

  1. I caught this on Amazon Prime this morning and had a good time with it. I thought it was pretty darn intense even though it was pretty predictable (but not totally). I was surprised at Crowe's beer belly.

    You theorized that they tacked on the opening. I don't think they did because the first thing I noticed about Crowe when he first confronted wife and kid was that he had blood spatters on his shirt, which was often concealed by his jacket. I'm just gonna guess you missed that due to the drive in presentation and all those jerks with their G-D headlights.


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget