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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SHUTTLE -- DVD review by porfle

Horror films have been set in just about every other location, so I guess it was just a matter of time before we got SHUTTLE, which takes place mainly in--you guessed it--a shuttle. Of course, with a name like that, it's got to be good. That is, it better be. And for most of its running time, until a final act that sorta fizzles out, it is.

Two girls, Melanie (Peyton List) and Jules (Cameron Goodman), are "best friends 4-ever" who just got back from a vacation in Mexico and are trying to find a shuttle from the airport into the city. Two guys, the horny Seth (James Snyder) and the "I just wanna go home" Matt (Dave Power), are in the same circumstance. They all end up not in the fancy expensive shuttle, but in the dingly little shuttle that costs half as much but is driven by a guy (Tony Curran, UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, BLADE II) whom they're not really all that sure about. He's a little creepy, and he doesn't seem to know his way around because he's taking them into a deserted, rundown part of town that isn't anywhere near where they're going. When they start to complain, he gets mad. Then he gets violent. And his passengers begin to realize that they're in big trouble.

The first half of SHUTTLE is a riveting journey into terror punctuated by moments of shocking violence. Just when you've gotten over the last crimson flick of the knife or wince-inducing bodily injury, another nerve-wracking act of violence comes out of nowhere. The rest of the time we're in constant suspense as the driver takes his captives further down the rabbit hole for no apparent reason. He seems more and more like a twitching nutcase, especially when he sends Mel into an all-night grocery store to purchase a list of seemingly random items and gives her ten minutes to return with them or he'll start offing people. It's like a really tense episode of "Supermarket Sweep" as she races her cart down the aisles to grab--cat litter? Meanwhile in the parking lot, a poorly-conceived escape attempt results in one of the hostages having a really bad tire day.

This goes on until, at about the halfway point, writer-director Edward Anderson springs his nastiest surprise yet, which all you smarties out there will probably see coming but which had my jaw bouncing up and down like a yo-yo. It's around this time that the driver's accomplice shows up, and he's nutty as a fruitcake and twice as dangerous. While the whole escapade seems up to now to have been all about robbery, suddenly it appears that these two wackos are psycho thrill-killers who are simply out for a little of the old ultra-violence. But there's even more to it than that, as the story eventually reveals its final surprises.

Things get weirder and more harrowing than ever for our hapless heroines as they descend into the lowest depths of their captors' depravity--yet somehow the raw, unpredictable tension of the film's first half slowly but surely begins to dissipate. By the time we're finally shown the dire secret behind the whole dastardly affair, the story plays itself out to a blandly unsatisfying conclusion. (Although we do get to find out what the hell that cat litter was for.)

The cast does a great job of selling all this, with Tony Curran going under-the-top to nice effect as the driver and his accomplice (Cullen Douglas) supplying us with double our daily recommended dosage of "coo-coo." James Snyder and Dave Power are okay and do about what's expected of them as "the guys", while Peyton List is good as the main girl. The standout, though, would probably be Cameron Goodman as her friend Jules. Her character seems a bit shallow at first but as the story progresses she displays some impressive acting skills. This is especially evident in her screen test footage which can be found among the bonus features, in which she gets into it to the point of shedding actual tears. No wonder she got the part.

First-time director Anderson stages everything nicely, giving us not only lots of tense human drama but also a nifty series of action setpieces that include vehicular crashes, people getting chased and/or run over, some slashings and severed body parts, and a few life-or-death struggles that should have you on the edge of your seat. And then, of course, there's Mel's mad dash through the supermarket, which even manages to make shopping seem exciting. While the end sequence fails to maintain this level of tension, it does contain some elements that are pretty deranged and of morbid interest. However, the final twist isn't all that twisty and the last scene just sorta plays itself out in cursory fashion.

DVD extras include some interesting casting sessions with all of the lead actors, some non-essential deleted scenes, a brief behind-the-scenes featurette, and the trailer. The DVD looks and sounds fine, with 2.35:1 widescreen and English 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound. Subtitles are available in Spanish only.

The idea of a movie called SHUTTLE, which takes place on, yes, a shuttle, didn't exactly fill me with waves of giddy anticipation. So the fact that much of this movie turned out to be such a nifty thrill ride came as a pleasant and quite entertaining surprise. The first three quarters or so of this nasty little thriller make it worth the trip--too bad it starts to run out of gas before reaching its final destination.

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