In Night Drive (2021), a former tech bro turned Uber-style chauffeur picks up a young woman with a penchant for trouble. As a long evening unfolds and Russell (AJ Bowen) begins to question how far he’s willing to go, a surprising twist develops.
Brad Baruh and Meghan Leon’s indie comedy boasts two excellent lead performances given by newcomer Sophie Dalah and indie stalwart AJ Bowen, the actor largely known for his association with the mumblegore wave, having appeared in key early works for Adam Wingard and Ti West. The casting is crucial, as the film is all hinged on the sparkling chemistry between Bowen and Dalah, their characters engaging in flirty banter and then the kind of passionate arguing that usually ends with a kiss. Usually. For what sets off as a macabre comedy with screwball energy takes a detour into unexpected territory.
Russell could have had it all. He developed an app for the travel industry but sold his shares before the company went public and earned millions. Instead of living a baller LA lifestyle, he’s spending Christmas driving clients around Los Angeles via an app named Jaunt. He picks up Aussie ex-pat Charlotte (Dalah), who says incredibly odd and random things and yet is charming and funny. Russell drives her to an ex-boyfriend’s house to pick up a suitcase and the gig economy worker’s life changes forever.
Night Drive is supremely entertaining, stylishly presented and benefits from repeat viewing, as once its secrets and third act reveal comes into play, the film runs differently second time around, its subtle hints become red flags, the plot is funnier and meaner and, most importantly, more nightmarish. It also keenly posits big questions on human nature, greed, and morality, without grandstanding or screaming it from the rooftops.
Dalah is hilarious as the casually cruel and zero-fucks-given Charlotte. She manages to be sweetly naïve and carelessly dangerous at the same time. Bowen is fantastic too, playing a man we initially take to be a nice enough guy, a sad dude way out of his depth, but who begins to plot a way out of the madness and reassert his male entitlement, discovering his own lack of moral fibre when presented with a salivating opportunity.
Tightly constructed, economical in its storytelling and editing, knowing it’s got a strong hand to play by letting Bowen and Dalah drive the movie, Baruh and Leon’s low budget indie flick is a wee cracker.
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Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio