Time ticks inexorably for forty-something Russell (AJ Bowen). He was once married, but is now divorced. Years ago he developed an app that became a huge financial success, but he made the mistake of allowing himself to be bought out before it went public, missing out on the big profit. He now uses the car that is the only remaining signifier of his past status for drive share work, and when he is not chatting with clients, he is contemplating a long history of poor choices and regrets. In other words, Russell is a has-been, with his best days behind him, and any forward momentum in his life is dictated by his customers’ destinations. Yet in Brad Baruh and Meghan Leon’s Night Drive (which Leon also scripted), Russell is about to pick up a much younger fare who will take him for a weird, wild ride through the LA darkness, holding out the possibility of change.
22-year-old Charlotte (Sophie Dalah) is Russell’s polar opposite. Cavalier about time (“What year are we in again?”, she asks) yet always looking at her watch, Charlotte was “still a zygote” when Russell both reached and passed his peak, and now maps out her life by a set of cultural references that Russell barely recognises (and vice versa). “Our shit is different,” Charlotte tells ‘Rusty’ (a nickname that makes clear her attitude towards Russell’s age) – and he can only agree. Yet as the hedonistic young Australian steals a mysterious box from her ex-boyfriend’s place, and keeps violently crossing paths with another man (Scott Poythress) of roughly Russell’s age, her driver-for-hire finds himself becoming ever more compromised by and bound to his cash-rich, ethics-poor passenger. For as this odd couple shares a journey into the night, it increasingly seems that there can be no going back from the things that they have done together. “Some day you’ll look back at that one moment where you picked the path of least resistance, and everything just went to shit,” warns Russell, who knows of what he speaks through bitter experience – but Charlotte, who veers between fearlessness and sociopathy, treats everything as a game, and just does not seem to care about either the consequences of her actions, or the increasingly bloody trail that she leaves in her wake.
As the Christmas setting ironises all the mayhem and murder, sin and cynicism, Russell and Charlotte repeatedly bicker over who should be behind the wheel – but really what drives this film is the MacGuffin in Charlotte’s metal case, whose key function is not revealed till the third game-changing act. No matter, though, for Night Drive plays out for the most part like Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004), Glenn Payne’s Driven (2019) or D.C. Hamilton’s The Fare (2018) – a road movie whose two fellow travellers are at first contrasted, only eventually to be compared, in the revisionist playground of genre.
strap: Brad Baruh & Meghan Leon’s genre-fuelled LA road movie is motored as much by its odd-couple dynamic as its revisionist MacGuffin
Night Drive will be released in the US through Dark Sky Films
© Anton Bitel