BAXTER — Movie theaters nationwide have a lot riding on “Unhinged,” a road rage thriller and the first new release since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered cineplexes earlier this year.

Oscar-winner Russell Crowe stars in the R-rated motion picture that had its local premiere Thursday, Aug. 20, with multiple showtimes at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter.

“Unhinged” has already opened in 25 countries, many where it has been No. 1 at the box office, according to NPR, including the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia.

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Crowe portrays a down-on-his-luck hulking bear of a man whose proverbial last straw is when a single mom behind him angrily honks her horn at him and then later refuses to apologize to him.

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What unfolds from there is a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game between Crowe and co-star Caren Pistorius, the troubled woman whose run-in with Crowe sets forth all the action in the film.

Russell Crowe stars as “the man” in the psychological thriller unhinged. Skip Bolden / Unhingedmovie.com
Russell Crowe stars as “the man” in the psychological thriller unhinged. Skip Bolden / Unhingedmovie.com

Crowe told Australia’s “This Morning” about moviegoers welcoming a cathartic thriller: “We want to go back to the place where the crazy stuff happens on the screen, not actually in our lives.”

“Unhinged” became the first wide theatrical release in many months due to the coronavirus pandemic, which forced cineplexes to temporarily close and then reopen to partial capacity.

“Unhinged” starts off with Crowe glowering in a parked truck outside a home as he takes painkillers with a dead-eye stare of a soon-to-be-condemned man who is bereft emotionally.

He clobbers his way into the home with a hammer, beats a couple to death with the tool and proceeds to set the house on fire before driving away without saying a word.

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Perhaps Crowe’s character was intended in “Unhinged” to be more like a force of nature — ruthless, relentless and without compassion for the poor unsuspecting souls of his victims.

A novel contrivance of the motion picture is when Crowe gets his hands on the young mom’s smartphone early on, allowing him to target not only her but her loved ones in the twisted game.

Crowe forces Pistorius to choose which of those near and dear to her should come in harm’s way of his unbridled anger that was unleashed at that fateful intersection where she honked.

Caren Pistorious co-stars in the road rage thriller “Unhinged” as the focus of Russell Crowe’s unbridled anger. Skip Bolden / Unhingedmovie.com
Caren Pistorious co-stars in the road rage thriller “Unhinged” as the focus of Russell Crowe’s unbridled anger. Skip Bolden / Unhingedmovie.com

His backstory is doled out in bits and pieces in the film but whether purposefully or not remains mostly enigmatic as to his motivations and the roots of his troubled past.

Crowe won an Academy Award for “Gladiator.” The Australian starred in the 2000 epic historical drama about a Roman general who must fight others in the arena to avenge his loved ones.

The talented actor has been known to go to extremes for his craft, putting on weight for his portrayal of tobacco firm whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand in the drama “The Insider” in 1999.

Crowe again takes a burly form in “Unhinged” and this time adds a Southern drawl that manages to be at the same time friendly and menacing, indicative of a slow-simmering fury.

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Pistorius appears to hold her own against Crowe as the plot progresses, and it should come as no surprise that she begins to fight back as the heroine desperate to save the ones she loves.

The New Zealand actress is a relative newcomer to the industry but had the daunting task in the movie of eliciting sympathy from audiences who are supposed to be concerned with her plight.

The German-based Solstice Studios release about a stranger terrorizing a seemingly helpless young woman and going on a killing spree touches upon the disconnect of our polarizing times.

“Unhinged” starts off with a video montage of civil unrest, police brutality and more to set the tone, time and place in which Crowe and Pistorius share precious moments.

Frank Lee
Frank Lee

While it requires some suspension of belief and employs some modern-day conventions such as a tablet running out of power at an inopportune moment, “Unhinged” barrels through with the conviction that we are all, or could be, powder kegs ready to go off at any moment.

“Unhinged” director Derrick Borte is known for the 2010 dark comedy “The Joneses,” whose cast included Demi Moore, David Duchovny, Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth.

Carl Ellsworth is the screenwriter of “Unhinged” and best known for his other bare-bones, white-knuckle thrillers like “Red Eye,” “Disturbia” and “The Last House on the Left” remake.

“Unhinged” follows in the tradition of other harrowing motion pictures in which someone becomes the pathological fixation of another with destructive and tragic results.

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For example, “Single White Female” was released in 1992 and starred Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh with the latter wanting to live the former’s life right down to her boyfriend.

One of my favorites in the genre is “The Hitcher,” a 1986 road thriller in which Rutger Hauer stars as a suicidal, homicidal, hitchhiking drifter who fixates on C. Thomas Howell as the driver.

“Unhinged” is playing only in theaters and may just be the panacea right now to escape for a few hours from the crazy world we live in. Just don’t honk at anyone on the way to the theater.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.