Review – Road Rage to the Maximus (“Unhinged”)

Take the movies Cellular, Falling Down, and Spielberg’s Duel, throw them into a blender, and hit puree. You’ll probably come up with a movie that resembles this one about road rage, cell phones, car chases, and the consequences that happen when the guy you honk at in traffic decides to crank things up to eleven.

*

Y’know, some people handle a divorce in different ways. Some, like single mom Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorius) have her lawyer, Andy (Jimmi Simpson) work out the details, while other people handle it—shall we say—more aggressively? Take, for example, divorced looney Tom Cooper (Russell Crowe looking quite rotund). He just brutally killed his ex-wife, her new husband, and torched their home. Ouch! So what are the odds that Tom and Rachel are gonna meet up on the road the next day? Oh, 100%, I’d guess. Rachel, driving her tween son, Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school in their crappy Volvo station wagon, honks at Tom’s massive new Ford pick-up truck and Tom doesn’t take kindly to that.

Wanting an apology, but getting none from the frazzled mom, Tom later follows her to a gas station and, not only cleverly steals her cellphone, but leaves her a burner flip-phone. Why? Well, quicker than you say, “it’s payback time”, Tom uses her phone’s contacts as a kinda Kill Bill hit list! Uh-oh! A cruel cat ‘n’ mouse game ensues with Tom going after people like Andy, Rachel’s loser brother (Austin P. McKenzie), his freeloading girlfriend (Juliene Joyner), and others. And when this guy goes nuts with his 1000-yard stare and gritting teeth, nobody is safe.

After the cops are after Tom, Rachel thinks it’s over, and she and Kyle take off for a police station. But think again, Rachel! The climactic third act is around the corner and Tom isn’t about to stop coming after you or your kid! Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth (Red Eye, Disturbia) has written a real nail-biter here that is reminiscent of the several other movies I mentioned before, but even with that, I was still sucked into the story and characters and found myself almost yelling at the movie screen. (“Call the police!”,”No! Don’t do THAT!” To the left! Go to the LEFT!!”). Even though much of the dialogue was at times clichéd, the actors made it work.

Although German director Derrick Borte has already made a few forgettable movies here (American Dreamer, The Joneses), this one really shows off his wild style and great camerawork. Car chases are a dime-a-dozen, but Borte gives them a fresh coat of paint with this movie, not to mention his cringe-inducing scenes of shock & terror. I even jumped a few times, not expecting a few scenes playing out the way they did. As good as Borte is, this movie really belongs to Russell Crowe. Packing on a few pounds since his Maximus days, he steals this film from the get-go and never lets up with his manic-psycho gaze and truly terrifying performance.

Caren Pistorius plays the mom with just the right amount of calm vs terror, not going into full-tilt warrior princess mode as other movies do. She’s fragile, resourceful, smart, and protective of her child, and she’ll take some unimaginable beat-downs that would kill your normal human.  Bateman is also very good as the confused and scared teenager. For a movie that is full of tropes from other movies, it’s surprisingly entertaining and fun to watch. AND it’ll make you think twice the next time you honk at someone on the street!                     

**Now in theaters that are reopening. Soon to be streaming VOD in November.

Falling Down (1993)

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A movie that, at the time of filming, the infamous 1992 Rodney King race riots were in full swing and shooting the movie got a little dicey at times. Nevertheless, this Joel Schumacher saga of one man’s journey into his own personal hell still resonates today.

William Foster (Michael Douglas) is having a bad day. I mean, a REALLY bad day. Recently divorced (and his ex-wife has filed a restraining order against him, too boot!), he’s just been fired from his job as a defense engineer. He’s stuck in one of L.A.’s notorious traffic jams, it’s triple digits hot outside, AND his car’s air conditioning just broke. Abandoning his car, he begins to walk home, stopping off at a nearby liquor store where the owner refuses to give him change for a telephone call. Uh-oh! This is NOT a good day to upset William!

Meanwhile, Sgt. Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall), who is about to retire to Arizona, overhears about the weird liquor store altercation. As the day progresses, he pieces together the clues left behind by Bill and his swath of destruction, even though nobody at his police office will take him seriously. As Bill takes the long grueling walk to his ex’s beach home in Santa Monica (he doesn’t take a bus, cab, or rent a car, for some odd reason) he periodically calls ex-wife Beth (Barbara Hershey), insisting he’ll be there for his little daughter’s (Joey Hope Singer) 7th birthday.

But getting there proves quite the feat, as Bill encounters obstacle after obstacle, like gang bangers, rude fast-food clerks, neo-Nazi store owners, loud-mouthed pedestrians, and obnoxious wealthy golfers. However, Bill, armed to the teeth with a gym bag full of “every gun in the world” makes short notice of each problem. As his tempter shortens with the heat, no one is safe. The day starts to wind to a close and Bill makes his way to Beth’s home just as Prendergast and his partner (Rachel Ticotin) arrive just in time. But it’s the finale/showdown on the Santa Monica pier that’s the real highlight of this movie.

Mostly known for his bit acting, Ebbe Roe Smith wrote only two screenplays ever, this movie and the unseen Car 54, Where Are You? (based on the old 50’s TV show). Odd, that this one was so very good and the other was a total waste of celluloid. Go figure. Smith took hot-button topics like racism, bigotry, homelessness, crime in Latino neighborhoods, and skewing the ‘being a good American’ adage. All of this is harshly represented in the eyes of Michael Douglas’ Bill Foster as he traverses major and minor parts of L.A., Hollywood, and Santa Monica.

Director Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, Flatliners) really flexed his crime/thriller legs here and gave us a nice little potboiler that was basically two stories: the age-old “retiring cop who has that one last case to solve” and an unhinged man driven to extreme lengths just because nobody will be nice to him. All in all, the B-story of Prendergast and his goofy wife are dull compared to Foster and his ever-increasing walk-of-rage. Douglas is simply superb as the man with a plan (and many, many guns) who can’t understand how he’s the bad guy while terrorizing a local Whammy Burger or blowing up a sewer line to prove a point. He’s just, y’know, misunderstood.

Duvall is pretty much Duvall, being his usual cranky self and having fun in this role. Hershey is wonderful as the ex-wife, and veteran actress Tuesday Weld plays Prendergast’s rather bi-polar wife who is terribly underused in her small role. Yes, it does have some plot holes (like Bill never getting a proper ride home) and it does have some negative racial stereotypes, but the acting and direction here is top-notch.     

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