Chronicling the odyssey into moral and ethical hell via crime, deception and betrayal of a taxi driver struggling to stay out of debt and support his family, “A Cab for Three” is a modest but spirited black comedy about life in a complacently corrupt society. A significant hit in its native Chile, clocking over 250,000 admissions since its August release, writer-director Orlando Lubbert’s film could have used a tighter script. But its weaknesses are redeemed by engaging characters and a darkly potent finale that should help this Golden Shell winner for best film at San Sebastian land festival slots and TV sales.
Economically challenged driver Ulises (Alejandro Trejo) strays from the path of righteousness when his cab breaks down in a rough part of town. A pair of bumbling, illiterate muggers, Chavelo (Daniel Munoz) and inexperienced Coto (Fernando Gomez-Rovira), help him get the vehicle back on the road. Giving him the choice of taking the wheel or being stuffed into the trunk, they persuade Ulises at knife point to be their driver in a series of robberies. But the duo displays an unexpected sense of comradeship, splitting the loot with the hostage and earning Ulises more cash in a few hours then he normally scrapes together in months.
Ulises starts regularly serving as the duo’s accomplice, refusing to answer the questions of his wife (Elsa Poblete) about where the extra loot is coming from. But their criminal activity puts them on the radar of a crooked cop (Juan Rodriguez), who begins closing in, using Ulises’ lover (Ivonne Becerra) to keep tabs on him. Needing a place to hide out, Chavelo and Coto hole up at Ulises’ house, where they eye his adolescent daughter (Denitze Lecaros) and shower his family with expensive gifts. Feeling trapped in an explosive situation, Ulises convinces his cohorts to do one last major job.
While pacing mostly is brisk, Lubbert’s script rambles occasionally, especially in the latter reels in which Chavelo and Coto claim to have found God and the will to reform. But the strong final act unleashes a bitter sting as Ulises sets up his cohorts for a fall then unpredictably betrays not only his friends but also himself and his family. Leading the able cast, Trejo appealingly depicts a morally elastic man willing to embrace corruption in order to pull himself out of the hole of poverty. Munoz’s gravel-voiced, wannabe tough guy is amusing and Gomez-Rovira is touching as dim-witted Coto, who’s too sweet-natured for his chosen line of work.