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Top Performances Push 'Driven' Out of Idle


"Driven" compares to the haunting atmosphere and intensity of "Taxi Driver" in the same way that being a cabby in L.A. can be as eerie and harrowing as being one in New York. Which means, roughly, that this independent production--made in 1996, and still in search of a national distributor--can't measure up to the Martin Scorsese classic, but possesses a verve and brooding atmosphere all its own.

Set vaguely in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, "Driven" examines the lives of four cabdrivers/dreamers on the precipice of change. Their dreams are modest, but, it would seem, they're still bigger than these guys' capacity to act on them. In one wistful scene, they reflect on their veteran colleagues who at one time must have had grander aspirations, but who, with worn faces "like Play-Doh," continue to hack.

Pelton (Tony Todd) wants to buy a modest strip of storefront real estate and reconnect with his estranged son. Schneider (Daniel Roebuck) moonlights for a cynical illegal bookmaker, but foresees heading up his own business working up point spreads. Schuyler (Whip Hubley) has a past he doesn't seem to want to come to terms with, and boasts that there's a "poetry" about him that he declines to reveal to anyone except a particularly attractive female fare.

They're all united, quixotically, by Legrand (Chad Lowe), a baby-faced driver who defects from an ostensibly more lucrative competitor to work alongside this ragtag group. Legrand has a mystery about him, not to mention a way of outearning the others, and spouts lyrical psychobabble about the nobility of hacking, which the other three find alternately alluring, baffling and downright irritating.

Writer-director Michael Paradies Shoob, who once labored as a cabdriver himself, creates a number of scenes that carry immense dramatic heft yet don't really cohere. His film's time structure may be at fault; perhaps if he had spread the film's story out over a few weeks or months, the sundry story lines would have more room to breathe, and wouldn't be forced to serve a climax that seems, like the fleet of clunkers the guys pilot through L.A.'s unfriendly streets, a little jury-rigged.

The characters go from complaining about the lack of work to getting overburdened with prospective fares in a mere, and unconvincing, couple of days.

Still, performances are uniformly strong and committed. Todd, who made a solid impression in the "Candyman" films gives the film its most poignant moments, while Roebuck brings to it a nicely dark comic edge.

"Driven" is an often absorbing mood piece that serves mainly as a strong calling card for Shoob and his ensemble cast. Having proven they can navigate capably even given middling material, they deserve a chance to shine in sleeker vehicles.

* MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: Profanity and violence. The material clearly isn't aimed at kids.



Tony Todd: Pelton

Whip Hubley: Jason Schuyler

Daniel Roebuck: Dale Schneider

Chad Lowe: Legrand

A Pacific Rim Partners and Trianon presentation. Director, writer Michael Paradies Shoob. Producer Daniel Linck. Co-producer Jane Valentine. Director of photography Joseph Mealey. Production, costume designer Patti Podesta. Music Jay Ferguson. Editor Fabienne Rawley. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

* "Driven" airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on KCET. It opens Friday exclusively at Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex in Santa Monica, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741, and the Cinemapolis in Anaheim Hills, 5635 E. La Palma, (714) 970-6700.

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