I’m a Yutaka Takeuchi fan. You may know him for his work in several episodes of HBO’s True Blood and Netflix’s contribution to all things Marvel with The Defenders. He was also in Jason Cuadrado’s feature film debut portmanteau Tales from the Dead, and USS Indianapolis, a direct-to-DVD affair with Nicolas Cage (do read our “Nic Cage Bitch” featurette). So it’s great to see Takeuchi in a starring role carrying a feature film: as a swing-shift taxi driver — driving down a neo-noir spiral.
The femme fatale triggering the spiral is Lexy Hammonds, a relatively new actress to the game with over a dozen roles in indie shorts, features, and cable series (2016’s Crazy Love). Also look for Sarah Dumont, as Morgan, from Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse in the cast. The remainder of the unknown and local, shot around San Jose, California-cast are each effective in their roles. There’s none of that indie-streamer thespian boondoggling to be found in the frames: frames shot for $160,000 — but look much more expensive.
Cara (Hammonds), a mysterious woman with a retro arcade games fetish, jumps into Dave’s (Takeuchi) taxi — and pays out his meter for the night. Dave soon discovers the “random” errands, aka adventures, Cara takes him on — getting drinks, playing arcade games, duffel bag pick ups, and breaking into a theater, have a deeper meaning. And the “deep” turns of that “meaning” is Lenny (Johnny Gilligan from the series Blackthorne): a crime syndicate hit-man on Cara’s trail. And Lenny’s a little, shall we say, “tweaked.”
Drive All Night isn’t your typical film noir, as it emphasizes the “neo.” Sure, you’ll reflect on Michael Mann’s neo-noir Collateral (2004) starring Tom Cruise’s ne’er-do-well assassin — but that was, as is the case with Mann (Thief), an action thriller. No, this feature film writing and directing debut from Peter Hsieh leans more towards Nicolas Winding Refn’s (The Neon Demon, Only God Forgives) Drive (2011), which itself is closer to Walter Hill’s (The Warriors, Streets of Fire) existential, Easy Rider-esque stunt driver-cum-criminal romp The Driver (1978).
And that’s what’s absorbed (as least moi) from the frames: a surreal cross between Mann’s Thief (one of my all-time favorites) and The Driver (another all-timer) — with one of the eyes of Mann, and another eye from Hill, plugged into Winding Refn’s brain. The neo-noir spiral here, while certainly inspired by it, isn’t the cut-and-dry mystery, twisty black and white of the Double Indemnity variety (another all-timer): Drive All Night is much more surreal in its layered, dream-like non-reality. And since Lenny, our mob enforcer is having his own surreal breakdown — and since I just watched Takashi Miike’s Gozu this week (another all-time fave) — I see a little bit of that film’s reality-stressed yakuza in the frames (only not as WTF’d as a Miike Joint: and what film ever is or will be).
This is a great flick!
You’ll be able to watch Drive All Night on all the usual streaming platforms as of March 20, 2021.
Disclaimer: We were sent a screener by the distributor’s public relations firm. That has no bearing on our review.