Netflixable? Soapy, silly finale undoes this Indian “Night Drive”

For the first two and a half acts of “Night Drive,” director Vysakh, his screenwriter Abhilash Pillai and cast treat us to a modestly-affecting thriller about a Christmas Eve drive gone wrong.

There’s little action and lots of melodrama as rideshare driver Georgy takes his childhood sweetheart Riya, a crusading TV news reporter, on a birthday trek through coastal Kerala, where Malayam is spoken and the beaches are at their most romantic after dark. They do a little shopping, sit on the beach and wait for an impromptu Christmas parade to pass.

Even after the inciting incident for the story — a police roadblock that prompts the argument that leads to Riya running into a guy toting gold bars for the corrupt politician Riya is trying to nail with her reporting — it’s a perfectly straightforward “frame-up” story, with the cop Riya corrected and chewed out ready to pin “attempted murder” (in Malayam with English subtitles) on them. Cunning Georgy and canny Riya have to figure a way to wriggle out of a trap.

But as we turn towards the tale’s conclusion, it climaxes with a wild martial arts brawl that we don’t see coming and a lot of coincidental, complex soap operatic plot twists that have to be over-explained to be believed.

It’s kind of fun, if laughable. It’s just that it hardly seems to fit the meandering, pokey picture that preceded it.

Riya (Anna Ben) gets the bad news that this crooked government minister (Siddique) she’s been trying to hold accountable is about to get off “Scot free.” However, the minister himself gets warned he’s going to be arrested, unless he sorts this little “gold” scandal out, before noon the next day.

And merry Christmas to you, minister!

Smart, chivalrous and handsome Georgy takes a lady and her cute kid home and is done with his rideshare duties for the night. If he can sneak Riya past her tipsy, disapproving retired soldier Dad, they’ll go for a drive.

Georgy has vague plans to work in Dubai. Riya isn’t hearing it.

“Do you have any plans to marry me?”

And that’s when the checkpoint, the courier, the gold and the “accident” that includes “slash” wounds happens and derails their night.

The sobriety stop with the cops led by chief inspector Benny Moopen (Indrajith Sukumaran) is sexist, sassy and just testy enough to never turn funny. Georgy’s apologies are nullified by Riya’s “Here’s what the law says” backtalk.

“Oh look, the lady has spoken again!”

When they wind up in the hospital, delivering a guy Riya’s just run over, we know they’re in for it.

Only the stakes never feel that high. She is on TV and famous. The cop gets a little rough with Georgy, but nothing that menacing.

And then there’s the amount of gold all this is over — 18 kilos. That’s about $850,000 worth, and with the 40 pounds of 18K gold stuffed in a tote bag, it seems even less consequential. Surely a scandal threatening a top politician and implying attempted murder would involve more loot.

The screenplay packs in a lot of flips and twists into the last half of the third act, and brings in Georgy’s faithful pals (Prasanth, Sreevidya Nair) for semi-comic moral support. And while the fight itself — played out in slo-mo, with one person folding her arms and smiling because she knows someone with “particular skills” that will be ably demonstrated — is a stitch, it really does seem to belong to a funnier, more action-packed picture.

Even with the conspiracy and implied frame-up plot unfolding, the first hundred minutes of this “Drive” is too timid to deserve its over-the-top climax and over-explained payoff.

Rating: TV-14, violence, drinking

Cast: Anna Ben, Roshan Mathew, Indrajith Sukumaran, Prasanth, Sreevidya Nair and Siddique

Credits: Directed by Vysakh, scripted by Abhilash Pillai. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:56

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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