In 2004 Tom Cruise got into the back of Jamie Foxx’s cab and took him on a trans-Los Angeles killing spree in Collateral...
...A year later Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki jumped into a ‘67 Chevy Impala and spent the better part of two decades killing their way through demons, angels, ghouls, and goblins in The CW’s Supernatural. If you don’t see much overlap between the two beyond the cars and the killing, not to worry, writer/star Casey Dillard will connect the dots for you with Driven.
Emerson Graham (Dillard) spends her nights driving her sister’s car for Ferry, a fictional rideshare service that for some reason still necessitates the driver asking, “Where are you headed?” Between shuttling mismatched couples, Instagram party girls, and the odd demon hunter she practices stand-up comedy with in the rear-view mirror. Observational witticisms delivered in that working woman cadence, dry, playing to Emerson’s smoky demeanor.
Good humor, however, comes to a swift halt when the hooded and rancorous Roger (Richard Speight Jr.) hires Emerson as his personal valet. Roger’s off-putting attitude soon becomes the least of Emerson’s problems when it becomes apparent that Roger is killing, or at the very least attacking people at each of his stops. Roger reveals to a strangely unbothered Emerson that he’s in fact hunting demons and that he needs to dispatch his targets quickly lest they learn of his plans and coordinate an attack against him.
Fans of Supernatural will recognize Speight from his time playing the Trickster Loki and Gabriel. And one can’t help but draw some lines between Dillard’s story and Speight’s casting. Frankly between the humorous back and forth that ends up dominating the film and the demon hunting aspects of the story, Driven plays like an extended Trickster episode of Supernatural.
While some of the earlier humor feels ham-fisted, the latter banter between Emerson and Roger punches nicely, fitting neatly into the crafted personas of their respective characters. And while some of the narrative bumbles slightly, the film as a whole is kept afloat by the chemistry between the two. Recurring gags about pungent essential oils and turd spoons keep their dynamic from getting too mired in clunky lore and are most importantly genuinely funny.
Dillard utilizes her pages and the back and forth to give us just the bits that we need to know about these characters to keep us in it with them. Sometimes it’s even downright clever. We learn that Emerson took the job with Ferry as a means to escape her troubled relationship with her jealous girlfriend Jess (Maddie Ludt, shout out for bisexual representation) and that she only ever practices her stand-up routine, she’s never actually performed it, sitting outside of the local comedy venue in her car, never quite making it inside. These bits of character work keep Driven afloat amidst some occasionally shaky performances from the supporting cast.
Also impressive is director Glenn Payne’s utilization of limited space. A great majority of the film unfolds from the confines of Emerson’s car and seldom ventures beyond. Even when it does, the sequence is either shot through the vehicle’s window or it’s in the frame. It’s a time-tested way of stretching a budget so as to avoid the cost of having to either rent or construct locations or sets, and when it works it’s always something to behold. In less capable hands, this format collapses in on itself and makes for a claustrophobic experience both visually and emotionally and leaves the audience clawing to get free.
It’s important to acknowledge that Driven is, at its core, a character-driven film. While the supernatural serves as a foundation for all of the film’s goings on, it’s simply that, a foundation. If one comes to this film expecting a surplus of blood, violence, or bumps in the night, one might walk away soured. Interestingly enough this feels like an origin story for the duo. It would be easy to imagine a second part to this. With some momentum and a larger budget I could see Driven serving as a prelude to some rather splashy and humorous adventures.
Overall, Driven takes the best of the stories it cribs from and gets the best from the talent involved in its creation and spins them into a fairly satisfying drive around the block. Imperfect but well worth the trip.
Driven arrives on DVD and Digital June 16th from Uncork'd Entertainment.
By Paul Bauer