‘The Drive’ (Joel Kinnaman) – who, in a deep dive for longtime UK horror festival fans, seems to have modelled his look on Shock Around the Clock co-organiser Stefan Jaworzyn – is about to park by the Las Vegas hospital where his wife is giving birth when ‘the Passenger’ (Nicolas Cage) – red hair, demonic beard, Boston accent, cool leather jacket, gun – slides into the back seat of his car and tells him to drive into the desert. Threats, incidental violence, a lot of chat, character revelations and carnage climax ensue.
Yuval Adler’s stylised melodrama isn’t quite a two-character piece (a couple of folk get in the way to become collateral damage) just as it’s not quite a whole-film-inside-a-car movie (there’s a stop off at a diner for a snack and some light terrorising of civilians) but 80% of the film is Kinnaman doing low-key why-me? desperation as the ordinary guy who is dragged off on a nightmare date at the worst possible time while Cage goes full-on Nicolas Cage with a commitment that makes his performance as Dracula seem understated.
The Passenger insists the Driver is a crook who did him wrong back in Boston, which raises the possibility this is building to a History of Violence-style reversal when the nice guy will turn on a dime into a snarling thug … but also drives this particular Cage vehicle down a cul-de-sac because, despite his turn in Face/Off, Cage is so ferociously homicidal that any attempt to mirror the hero’s shift by revealing a wounded, justified (sympathetic?) side to the Horrible Hitcher is doomed from the offset. It has a harsh, neon-lit, lightning-over-the-desert look which matches the somewhat arch tone of Cage’s high-flown, non sequitur-studded monologue.