Producers: Lisa Ellzey, Mark Gill and Andrew Gunn   Director: Derrick Borte   Screenplay: Carl Ellsworth   Cast: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, Austin P. McKenzie, Juliene Joyner, Stephen Louis Grush, Michael Papajohn, Lucy Faust and Anne Leighton   Distributor: Solstice Studios

Grade: C-

Derrick Borte’s high-octane thriller, the first offering from the newly-established Solstice Studios, will undoubtedly be remembered as the first major film released to theatres after (or more accurately, during) the closures brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.  Unfortunately that’s about the only distinction “Unhinged” possesses.  

Written  by Carl Ellsworth (who enjoyed some success in the genre with “Disturbia” and “Eagle Eye” before encountering a dry spell), the picture is pure pulp reminiscent of Joel Schumacher’s “Falling Down” (1993), in which Michael Douglas played an ordinary Joe who went bonkers one day, with very violent results. 

This time around, the fellow described by the title is Tom Cooper (Russell Crowe, who’s big both in physique—he looks positively huge—and in terms of performance style).  After a prologue in which, one rainy night, he grabs an axe from his pickup truck, stalks across the road, breaks into a house, hacks a screaming couple to death, sets the place ablaze and then drives off—presumably the victims are his ex-wife and her new husband, though that’s never spelled out—the scene shifts to divorced mom Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorius) bickering with her live-in slacker brother Fred (Austin P. McKenzie) and sister-in-law Mary (Juliene Joyner) before driving her adolescent son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) off to school.

Caught in traffic on the freeway as the exasperated Kyle worries about being late and getting detention, she switches to city streets.  Unfortunately she encounters Tom at an intersection, and when he fails to move when the light changes green, she honks her horn belligerently and swerves around him, letting loose a few choice words and gestures before driving on. 

Given the fact that the urban world depicted here seems an unremittingly angry place, Rachel’s actions seem a bit unwise (though explicable by reason of the fact that she’s just been phone-fired for tardiness), and so they prove.  Tom follows her and, when he catches up in gridlock and demands an apology, her refusal sets off his lust for revenge.  She manages to drop Kyle off at school, but afterwards discovers that Tom has followed her to a gas station, and his determination to get even—and then some—clearly emerges. 

For a while what follows is a grim inner-city version of “Duel,” marked by some nifty if predictable vehicle stunt work (decently shot by Brendan Galvin and edited by the trio of Michel McCusker, Steve Mirkovich and Tim Mirkovich, and set to a thunderously propulsive score by David Buckley), but already Tom’s homicidal streak emerged again at the convenience store, where he ran down a good Samaritan (Stephen Louis Grush) who attempted to intervene, and now he starts a personal vendetta, setting his sights on Rachel’s friends and family—easy to locate since he’s stolen her phone.

So the bodies mount—first Rachel’s divorce lawyer Andy (Jimmi Simpson), whom he brutalizes at a diner in a scene designed to put you off your lunch, and then Fred and Mary, whom he delights in torturing as Rachel listens helplessly.  By this time, of course, the police are in pursuit, but that doesn’t impede the script’s inexorable process to a final confrontation in which mother and son must face off alone against the maniacal killer.  Rest assured that the filmmakers spare no gore in the resolution: an eyeball and a pair of scissors are prominent.

Perhaps if “Unhinged” had tried to add some serious socio-political subtext to its narrative of murderous rage like “Falling Down” did, one might be more kindly disposed to the result, but it doesn’t: it’s just a portrait of a guy cracking up, and Crowe’s committed teeth-grinding seething can’t disguise the fact that Tom Cooper is pretty much a blank, one-note character.  That’s also true of Rachel, to whom Pistorius is unable to bring much more than generalized stress (the likable Bateman is a bit more successful in conveying Kyle’s distress over his parents’ breakup).  The supporting figures are merely bland cogs in the mayhem machine, so that it’s hard to muster much concern over their admittedly cruel fates.  As fashioned by production designer Fredrick Waff, the background is suitably scruffy, but that’s hardly designed to perk your interest. 

One might be longing for a return to the theatrical experience after months of forced sequestration, but that’s hardly a reason to venture out to see what’s little more than a logic-starved, cable-ready potboiler—a depiction of misogynist fury that’s unpleasant in the extreme.