Friday, March 27, 2009

Let Me Off Of This Bus. I'd Rather Kill Myself!

When Jules (Cameron Goodman) and Mel (Peyton List) return from a girls’ weekend vacation, they find themselves stranded at the airport, late on a rain-drenched night. Wanting just to get home safe and sound, they board an airport shuttle with a helpful, friendly driver (Tony Curran) for the short trip... that turns out to be anything but safe. With Shuttle,  comes a terrifying thriller about a night that starts like any other, and a ride home that descends into darkness. 

Next time, spring for a cab. Sadly, there may not be a next time for two young women and three men whose ride home on an L.A. airport shuttle (blue, but definitely not Super) goes hellishly awry. Lifelong friends Mel (List) and Jules (Goodman) and two horny guys they met in baggage claim (James Snyder and Dave Power) jump aboard a discount shuttle along with a mousy businessman (Cullen Douglas). Soon, the driver (Curran) pulls a gun, straps everyone in with seat belts that can’t be unfastened, and heads for an industrial part of town where there’s nary a car or cop in sight. First-time writer-director Edward Anderson piles on the plot twists, some of them clever and surprising, though there isn’t much joy in the telling. The interior of the shuttle is sometimes too dark to make out the action, and the film runs long. Still, the well-acted third act is effectively intense, if maddeningly illogical. But hey, we don’t go to these movies for logic, do we? About an hour into Shuttle, there is a moment of real suspense as we wait for Mel to whack her abductor in the head with a tire iron. Up to this point, she and her best friend, Jules, along with three other passengers, have been fairly passive in the hands of the maniac at the wheel of the airport shuttle van. Although they know this is a one-way trip to the grave, nobody has taken intelligent advantage of the escape opportunities. And neither, in this case, does Mel, who lacks the homicidal panache to finish off the driver when she has a chance. Writer-director Edward Anderson begins his competent but bland horror thriller with a lengthy scene at the airport that establishes Mel as the good girl and Jules as her morally compromised friend. By the time they board the van, Anderson has wasted a good 10 minutes of screen time letting us know that Mel, who has broken with her fiance, suffers from motion sickness, and Jules is prone to flirtations with strangers. Any hope this will be a normal shuttle ride home ends when the driver exits the freeway to detour through a rundown neighborhood. Then one of the passengers loses his fingers while helping the driver change a flat tire. Soon that passenger and the other young male on board have been killed, leaving the girls with the driver and an older man we suspect is an accomplice. For a story with such a limited scope, the script requires cleverness and imagination. Anderson supplies neither. Instead of suspense, we get frustration at the stupidity of the characters. Also, for a movie primarily set in the interior of a van, Shuttle is not nearly as claustrophobic as it should be. It has become the habit of horror films to cap off an hour of bloody chases with an excruciating reel in which the survivor is taken to a grimy dungeon and explicitly tortured to death. So when the driver takes Jules and his drill into a room to remove her tattoos, we expect the worst. In light of why he kidnaps them, which is part of the big reveal, it makes no sense that he would allow himself to be so badly outnumbered by the passengers, given that he also has to, you know, drive the car. There are so many opportunities for List, Goodman, and the others to turn the tables that an audience could scream itself hoarse advising them. Shuttle improves slightly when Curran’s reasons are finally clarified, and the friendship between the two women proves to be thornier than it initially appeared. Until then, it’s just an ugly thrill machine—poorly acted, absent of psychology, and not nearly as taut and exciting as it needs to be. When the payoff finally arrives, it seems tasteless not just because of its topicality, but because the shock feels unearned. This gets a 2 on my "Go See" scale. Don't even bother trying to go see it actually. It won't be around for long.

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