There is nothing good about airport shuttle rides. Suffused with the stink of people who’ve been stuck in the recycled atmosphere of an airplane for countless hours and full of weary travelers either freaking out because they’re late getting to the airport or getting back home, shuttles are barreling beasts of concentrated misery. And that’s if you’re lucky, which is not the case for the fun-loving 20-somethings who board a sketchy late-night transport in “Shuttle,” writer/director Edward Anderson’s debut feature.
Among the shuttle’s doomed passengers are Jules (Cameron Goodman) and Mel (Peyton List), best friends just back from a weekend vacation in Mexico. They’re joined by Matt (Dave Power) and Seth (James Snyder), a pair of hunky young dudes who were on the same flight. There’s also a milquetoast accountant named Andy (Cullen Douglas), who won’t stop talking about his wife and kid. The driver (Tony Curran) is a bit of a creep, but the shuttle’s cheap (and Jules and Seth are eager to flirt with each other), and so the four young people climb aboard. Some bad driving and a flat tire throw the trip off the rails immediately, and Jules and Matt suspect something is wrong. And boy, are things wrong! Matt loses his fingers in a tire changing mishap, the driver pulls a gun, and soon enough, everyone in the shuttle is a hostage of the crazy wheelman.
To what end? Is it robbery the driver has in mind? Or something more depraved? That’s the central question here, and it takes “Shuttle” way too long to provide an answer. “Shuttle” goes on for a good 20 or 30 minutes longer than it should. Anderson has a knack for building tension, but he also undercuts that suspense with herky-jerky pacing and a preponderance of action that takes place outside the shuttle. Whatever the crazy driver’s intent, you’d think that the shuttle would constantly remain in motion, no matter what’s going on. But there are frequent stops and whenever the film expands its scope beyond the bloody bus, it loses atmosphere. The scenes in the shuttle are tense, claustrophobic and well executed, and while the numerous stops—at an ATM, an all-night mini-mart and other locales—eventually fit in with the larger plot, they’re unwelcome distractions. After all, more stops equal more chances for our heroines to escape, and by the time the driver stops and sends Mel on a bizarre shopping trip, you’ve got to wonder how this guy got his job with the shuttle company. You might think that, with a bus full of captives and another hostage buying some bread and kitty litter, keeping a low-profile would be a priority. Not this guy—he spends the 10 minutes Mel’s in the store chasing down and repeatedly running over a hostage, until there’s nothing but a bloody stain on the pavement, maybe the ultimate attention-grabber.
“Shuttle” is Anderson’s first feature, and all things considered, he’s off to a promising start. There’s a decent twist midway through the movie, but it would’ve been better if it happened sooner. Anderson’s got a good cast here, too. Peyton List starts out stumbling off an airplane and cursed with motion sickness, but she quickly emerges as the leader of the hostages and her slight build is a thin disguise for some hardcore steely resolve. Tony Curran has a wonderfully creepy turn as the driver and really plays up his character’s ambiguous motivations (until, that is, everything gets spelled out). Is he a depraved weirdo, or just a guy doing his job, and does the distinction matter?
For a movie with only six characters and one primary location, Anderson seems uncomfortable with sparseness, and the repeated breaks in action and increasingly unnecessary shorts of deserted industrial urban landscapes give “Shuttle” dead weight it doesn’t need. Less could be a lot more here, but instead, things get boring, and just when you think the climax is at hand, there’s an extra 15 minutes of pre-climax climaxing. This point also serves as the film’s big reveal, and the secret behind all the slashing, strangling and severed fingers is worth little more than a shrug. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that in the last few minutes, “Shuttle” becomes an “issue” movie, one that takes a hilariously convoluted approach to its pet issue. That might be the most annoying part of “Shuttle.” Anderson has a great eye for detail and makes all the pieces fit together—it’s just that the finished picture is about as exciting as a late-night shuttle ride.