3 A.M. (2001)
“Driving the night shift can be deadly.”
Director: Lee Davis
Cast: Danny Glover, Sergej Trifunovic, Michelle Rodriguez
Synopsis: The feature film directing debut of Spike Lee protege Lee Davis takes the viewer into the world of taxi drivers. Developed in the Sundance Laboratory, this film offers dove-tailing stories …
Having started as a member of the craft services unit on Mo’ Better Blues in 1990, Spike Lee protege Lee Davis had been with the 40 Acres and a Mule top banana for the better part of ten years when he finally earned the chance to direct his first feature. It seems that Davis wasn’t idle as he figuratively sat at his mentor’s knee, because Lee’s influence is apparent in every shot of this busy, uneven drama (which has distinct echoes of Lee’s Summer of Sam) centred around one night in the lives of three New York cab drivers during the height of media frenzy over a serial killer who is going around offing cabbies. Sadly, for much of the time, this movie looks too much like a kid parading around in their parent’s clothes.
The movie’s main character is Hershey, played by executive producer Danny Glover, a one-time basketball player who is incapable of committing to his waitress girlfriend, Georgia (Pam Grier). Hershey works for the ironically named ‘Lucky Lady’ Cab Company which is about to go down the pan unless it’s female owner (Sarita Choudhury) can quickly find some much needed finance. Hershey’s workmates include Rasha, a traffic-accident prone Bosnian immigrant who is in love with a masseuse/hooker, and Salgado (Michelle Rodriguez), a moody latino haunted by demons from her past. Through the course of the night, the story of each is sort-of resolved to varying degrees of satisfaction.
One thing Davis clearly never learned from Lee, and which is surely particularly appropriate for a first-timer, is to keep it simple. This movie is crammed with plot, so much so that small pieces fall out of the mix and are subsequently overlooked — the briefcase of stolen money, for instance; just what was the point? — with the result that the major story lines have less screen time than they deserve. Even the ‘cab killer’ selling point of the film is little more than a minor sub-plot with little relevance to the main plot(s). The movie barely clocks in at 90 minutes, and one can’t help wondering why Davis (who also wrote) didn’t discard some of these pointless sub-plots, add another twenty minutes, and develop further the more interesting aspects of the tale. There is also very little sense of time or place: the story could be happening in any major city in the States at any time in the last twenty years. Often, such a feature can be an advantage, but it works against this movie, detaching us somehow from the characters as they travel the city’s streets.
Glover’s tale is by far the least interesting. The age-old story of a non-committal man only learning just what he has when he is in danger of losing it, his predicament comes across as self-induced and irritating, especially as no solid reason is given for his reluctance to wed the still-choice Georgia. All the time that he is stressing over his situation you feel like yelling at him to grow up. The situation isn’t aided by the fact that there is surprisingly little chemistry between Glover and Grier. In fact Grier has virtually nothing to do throughout; apart from a scene late in the movie, she seems to spend her entire life in the cafeteria, swapping jibes with workmen and nuggets of blue-collar wisdom with her boss, and looking vaguely dissatisfied every now and then.
The story of Rasha, the Bosnian immigrant, is at least more intriguing. Sergej Trifunovic gives a decent performance and comes across as a more sympathetic character than the hapless Hershey, despite some of the less savoury aspects of his character. Unfortunately, Rasha’s story is badly underdeveloped: his infatuation with a masseuse who offers him ‘extras’ goes nowhere when it could have been one of the stronger strands, and the conclusion of his story is wholly unsatisfactory; it possesses an almost fairy-tale quality that defies belief, and severely undermines the entire story.
Salgado’s story is easily the strongest, and worthy of a movie in its own right. Michelle Rodriguez is spot-on as the surly Puerto Rican who, having killed her sexual abuser as a child, finds her sanity tested by demons both inside and outside her head. Regarded merely as a grumpy broad by her workmates, Salgado is in fact a time-bomb — the female counterpart of de Niro’s Travis Bickle — for whom every confrontation is a nudge closer to the edge. When she does finally crack the consequences are convincingly described. Salgado’s story doesn’t have a conventional ending as such, and is all the more powerful for it.
There’s a talent at work here, no doubt about it; but it’s difficult to tell whether it’s a talent that is starting to grow, or whether it is already operating at its limit.