“Driven” is the sort of comic thriller you root for, but one you’re hoping turns out better than it does.
It’s “Collateral” in a ride-share, “Collateral” meets oh — “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” even though the supernatural menace isn’t vampires. They are “‘demons,’ for lack of a better term.”
That’s a running gag in a movie that has a few of those, a few passable jolts and a couple of decent laughs. It’s almost enjoyable enough on its own merits. But the slack pacing, general lack of urgency or any sense of suspense do it in.
Casey Dillard, who was in James Franco’s adaptation of Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” wrote and co-stars in this as Emerson, a broke would-be stand-up comic who tries out new material in the rear-view mirror between customers. She’s driving a Ferry ride-share car nights just to make ends meet.
We’re starting to figure out it’ll be a cold night in Tupelo (where they filmed this) before she ever gets a Comedy Central special when she picks up the customer from hell. Almost literally.
He (Richard Speight, Jr. of “Supernatural”) is menace incarnate, a testy customer of few words, in town to “visit a few old friends.”
He’s got assorted addresses, several stops. And Emerson, gay and fresh off a break up and trying to turn that into “material” (“Your hair is so beautiful…I want to RIP it out. Then it wouldn’t be YOUR hair anymore, would it?”) is oblivious as he makes his stops and awful shadow violence plays out behind the curtains of his “stops.”
She’s slow on the uptake. Then he gets into the car, bloodied. Then he shows her his big honking knife.
“Please don’t hurt me.”
“I’m not going to.”
“Please don’t hurt ANYbody.”
As “Roger” starts to speak, to explain himself and his errands, two things happen. One, we can’t help but notice that this scary guy is a lot less scary because he sounds just like funnyman Will Forte. And secondly, all this palaver about “demons, for lack of a better term” has just turned “Driven” into “Parked, and about to get towed away.”
Dillard’s written herself a colorful character to play, made her a comic and who loves language (“You have a LOT of ‘Word War’ notifications!”), a lovelorn lesbian obsessed with filling the air around her (in a CAR) with “essential oils.”
“What was that?”
“Smells like Satan’s ANUS.”
There are a few funny lines.
“So, you’re a comic?”
“Not judging from your reactions.”
But as “Collateral” and assorted other thrillers confined to a car promise, the claustrophobia should make tension and suspense spike. And they don’t. We never fear for anybody’s safety, never connect with a single villain worth rooting against.
The more explaining that Roger does, the more flailing one-liners Emerson trots out, the duller “Driven” is. The stars are agreeable, even if they’re underplaying everything so much that they lower the stakes into “Who cares?” territory.
It’s likeable and worth rooting for. But in the end, it just isn’t all that.
Cast: Casey Dillard, Richard Speight Jr.
Credits: Directed by Glenn Payne, script by Casey Dillard. An Uncork’d release.
Running time: 1:30