I'm all about low-budget filmmaking, and I like a good thriller, but writer/director Eric Anderson's debut picture Shuttle is a terrible, stupid movie with a script that understands plot devices better than it understands actual people. As I watched with mild amazement, the characters collectively made worse and worse decisions that caused me to almost reflexively scream at the screen, until finally I gave up and just waited for this weak inversion of Hostel to end.
Mel (Peyton List) and Jules (Cameron Goodman) are returning from a trip to Mexico when they find themselves stranded at the airport. Boarding the cheaper of the two airport shuttles alongside a timid businessman (Cullen Douglas), and dragging a couple interested guys (Dave Power and James Snyder) along for the ride, they get more than they bargained for when the mysterious driver (Tony Curran) starts taking them farther and farther out in the wrong direction. Soon, they're heading for a deadly conclusion, trapped on the shuttle, and they must figure out a plan of action before it's too late.
In case you haven't been on an airport shuttle before, they're like large, bulky vans with room to seat around twenty people, and the majority of their body consists of gigantic windows on all sides. I know this is a movie, but the idea that five healthy adults can't figure out a way to escape from this vehicle, generally unrestrained, for nearly an hour and a half stretches my personal limit of disbelief far beyond its breaking point. In a movie like, say, Speed, there are logical reasons that the characters can't get off the bus: it's always going at least 51 miles an hour, and someone's watching it to see that everyone stays on. In Shuttle, four of the five "captives" end up deboarding the vehicle at least once at various times before it reaches its destination point, yet every time the potential for escape is there, the characters are foiled by the inaction of other protagonists, rather than the actions of the antagonists. It's this critical difference that makes Shuttle frustrating: it's not that the villains are too smart, it's that our heroes are too stupid.
Not that the villains aren't equally stupid. Tony Curran's bus driver character bounces back and forth from scene to scene between distant maliciousness and mild helplessness. Is he in charge or just a pawn? Is he angry or just tired? Either way, it's almost impossible to believe his character could even pull off this elaborate kidnapping scheme, because the characters find so many ways to hurt him, the shuttle, or both (while still failing to escape) that you just sit there reeling with amazement that police haven't busted him several times by now. Of course, in the world of Shuttle there are conveniently almost no people anywhere who notice anything. A violent showdown in a grocery store parking lot attracts no attention whatsoever and leaves behind no evidence, in a sequence of events that might be cynically referred to as "movie magic".
I was sent Shuttle on a screener DVD, and the cinematography is terrible. The picture is a muddy, low-contrast mess throughout, making it a bore to look at on top of its aggravating contrivances. However, the press photos I found online (like the one that accompanies this review) are vivid and colorful. Since a selected piece of the film looks more like the press pics, I'm guessing the brownish-mush comprising everything else is intentional. Is it all bad? Pretty much. There are the tiniest traces of quality: a scene involving the brakes is directorially skillful, and actresses List and Goodman conjure up the briefest wisps of entertainment from their terribly cliché character arcs in the second half. Sadly, these islands of relief only serve to remind you how bad everything else is.
All in all, Shuttle is a downer of a film. Maybe it's the intensely bland visual style, or perhaps the repetitive inanity, but it started to get at me deep down: you can only watch a group of presumably competent people fail to escape the clutches of death so many times before you want to break something. If I didn't have to send it back, I might have broken this DVD; perhaps they can offer the film to anger management classes instead of movie theaters.
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