‘Unhinged’ offers edgy excitement

“Unhinged” is a competent, scary and absorbing thriller — but it may not be the movie this country needs right now.

With theaters hesitantly reopening amid a pandemic and awful violence breaking out in many cities, I wasn’t really craving a movie that made my heart race for most of its run-time.

What’s more, since “Unhinged” stars Russell Crowe as a road-rager in homicidal pursuit of mother and child, it confronts us with some of the same feelings and images we keep encountering on our newsfeeds with alarming regularity. Of course, the film-makers couldn’t have known this when they wrapped a whole year ago; but I’m still wondering whether this factor makes the movie terribly relevant, or too close to home.

In any case, “Unhinged” certainly holds your attention.

The road-race scenes are fast, exciting and crisply edited, with several fairly spectacular crashes. But rather than a mere 90-minute car-chase, writer Carl Ellsworth (“Red Eye,” “Disturbia”) cooks up a truly terrifying plot in which the mad pursuer manages to steal and access his victim’s cell phone — at which point, of course, he is able to invade her personal life, including family, friends and homestead.

Ellsworth also generates considerable sympathy for the frightened heroine by taking several minutes to establish her complicated, stressed-out life, which includes a divorce, a tough job and a borderline dysfunctional household. So when this movie’s action kicks in, the keen suspense never flags for a minute.

The script also makes a decent if somewhat obvious point about interpersonal exchanges, especially with strangers. After all, this whole mess starts just because Mama Rachel was impatient and rude with someone who sat too long at a green light — having no idea what was going on in the other driver’s life.

Yet Ellsworth and Borte aren’t exactly fomenting sympathy for Crowe’s maniacal pick-up driver. Since he kills his ex-wife and her new family in the opening scene, Cooper is not a man to feel sorry for — only one to fear.

Few things are scarier than a villain with nothing to lose.

Yet this edgy terror was also, for me, the movie’s major flaw: Not only is it perhaps too frightening for folks already feeling frightened; but also, far too many innocent people die at Cooper’s hands. So I kept saying to myself, “No matter how bad he gets it in the end, it ain’t gonna provide sufficient closure.”

I will say the tale almost manages this anyway — though it still can’t avoid that ubiquitous thriller-movie problem of too many logistical absurdities. For one thing, I’m just about 100% sure a Prius couldn’t roll a minivan just by running into it.

And there are a couple other plot holes that, shall we say, one could drive a truck through.

Sorry; I couldn’t resist.


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