Dramatic but not entirely credible in all its particulars, “Driven” is a harsh fable about not making it in the American rat race. Michael Paradies Shoob’s debut demonstrates talent in the important areas of writing vibrant dialogue, staging and directing actors, which should give this smartly produced indie sufficient critical backing to achieve a modest theatrical release. Pic will serve nicely as a calling card for bigger things ahead.

A bunch of misfits who drive for a funky independent cab company in L.A., Shoob’s characters are guys stuck near the bottom of the social and economic ladder. Frustrated, alone and full of far-fetched dreams, they haven’t gotten anywhere in life due to a combination of character flaws and bad luck, and they resent many of their better-off passengers as well as the recently arrived immigrants who seem to find the fast lane to financial reward more easily than they do.

Most significant among the ensemble are Darius Pelton (Tony Todd), a short-tempered black man who would like to buy some inner-city property and can’t bring himself to see his young son, who lives with his white mother; Dale Schneider (Daniel Roebuck), a feisty New York Jew who thinks he can parlay his sideline as a bookie into something bigger, and Jason Schuyler (Whip Hubley), a milquetoasty Wasp whose job allows him to remain in unassertive anonymity.

Action is set during the Christmas season, and, for unexplained reasons, Red Star Cab’s big rival, Yellow, which is dominated by Russians, is apparently on the verge of folding. The men all root for this end, even though the demise of Yellow would flood the area with drivers looking for new gigs.

Before this happens, however, Red Star is joined by a mysterious defector from Yellow, LeGrand (Chad Lowe), an unaccountably sweet and optimistic chap for whom cab driving seems to be nearly a mystical, pre-ordained destiny.

The men compete for fares, yell at the world and vent their racial animosities just as they complain about those who might slight them. They also have difficulty dealing with the more intimate aspects of their lives, such as they are. When he sees his son by accident, Darius can scarcely talk to him, while Jason can’t act quickly enough when a beautiful passenger (Diane Dilascio) gives him the sort of opportunity that doesn’t come along everyday.

What is most unbelievable about the film is the high level of anger and stress some of the cabbies, notably Darius and Dale, maintain nearly all the time. Every fare is made into a virtual life-and-death issue, and the men behave as if being a taxi driver required the same feverish intensity as working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Having allegedly driven a cab himself, Shoob presumably knows about such matters, but the constant ranting and outlandish degree of competitiveness seem unrealistic in light of one’s life experience, making the picture come off as forced and artificial at times in its heightened dramatics.

But Shoob succeeds in making the city streets society’s cauldron, with the cabbies repping the soldiers on the front lines. The sort of working-class material that in the ’30s could, and did, serve to further left-wing notions of worker solidarity, and in the ’50s might have wreaked of little-man earnestness, now presents a world that just makes people mean and cutthroat in their attitudes toward one another.

Todd and Roebuck have by far the meatiest roles and do very well by them, with Todd affecting as a man so wound up he’s ready to burst and Roebuck utterly convincing as a born hustler who hasn’t yet found his game.

Technical aspects are good for a low-budget indie, particularly the exceptionally clear and vivid sound work.

Driven

Production

A Trianon Prods. and Pacific Rim Partners L.P. presentation in association with Palisades Pictures. (International sales: Palisades Pictures, Santa Monica.) Produced by Daniel Linck. Executive producer, Colin Williams. Co-producer, Jane Valentine. Directed, written by Michael Paradies Shoob.

Crew

Camera (CFI color), Joseph Mealey; editor, Fabienne Rawley; music, Jay Ferguson; production and costume design, Patti Podesta; set decoration, Pae White; sound (Dolby SR), George Burton Goen III; associate producers, Kathleen Wyer, Mike Jacobs Jr.; assistant directors, Brent Bowman, Francesca Iorillo; second unit camera, Edward Dadulak; casting, Mark Tillman, Tom McSweeney. Reviewed at Raleigh Studios, L.A., Aug. 21 , 1996. (In Toronto, Hamptons film festivals.) Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Darius Pelton - Tony Todd
Jason Schuyler - Whip Hubley
Dale Schneider - Daniel Roebuck
LeGrand - Chad Lowe
Rachel - Diane Dilascio
J.D. Johnson - Xander Berkeley
Charlie - Lou Rawls
With: Eric Pierpoint, Lee Garlington, Rawle D. Lewis, Richard Riehle, Lesley Woods, Susan Parker, Spencer Garrett, Anthony Palermo, Joseph Culp.
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