Friday October 2, 1998
There's no bulletproof divider between the cab driver and his passengers in the episodic and uneven "Chicago Cab." The barrier is between the driver, whose name we never learn, and the audience.
The double-shift worth of fares feel compelled to reach across the space between front seat and back, to use the driver as a sounding board, a counselor, an accomplice, a minister, a bank, a mirror and a pal.
He is none of those things. That's the point. He's a kind of hooker, taking money to get folks from where they are to where they think they want to be. And when he lets his fares get to him, he exposes his own hopeless soul. By the time he chooses to get involved in the serial tragedy of cab riders in Chicago--telling people what he thinks, what he'd do, what he knows--the driver (Paul Dillon) has already established a character who does not want to be touched or spoken to or bothered by life.
Looking like Lee Marvin's little brother, Dillon's driver spends a very long winter day driving around Chicago, picking up fares, listening for a few moments to the back-seat view of the universe, then moving on.
Buried in what is a bumpy sketch movie, there's an interesting treatise on how people talk to one another when they are strangers and not likely to meet again. But without irony or humor, with high-decibel street language taking the place of dramatic action, "Chicago Cab" is likely to leave you a little carsick. It goes nowhere because the driver has nowhere to go.
After a while, you begin to feel sympathy for Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro's overpowering character in Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" (1976), who felt compelled to take action against an imagined sea of outrageous fortune.
There's enough outrageous fortune to go around in "Chicago Cab." You never know who'll get into Dillon's bomb of a cab. The drugged, pregnant, unemployed, bruised, used, abused, cheated and cheating fill the back seat. A woman announces her rape, another opens her garage door and invites both cab and driver inside. A man offers to save his soul, another offers advice on the proper way to bite a cuticle.
In the end, like an out-of-control radio talk show, the voices blur, the faces--even the TV-familiar faces of Gillian Anderson and Laurie Metcalf in R-rated cameos--disappear and your focus is on the host behind the wheel. And even though you feel empathy, you begin to blame him for his plight and for your slightly soiled feeling as the lights go up.
Chicago Cab, 1998. R, for pervasive strong language and for sexual content. GFT Entertainment presents A Child's Will Production in association with New Crime Production. Directed by Mary Cybulski and John Tintori. Written by Will Kern based on his play "Hellcab." Produced by Paul Dillon, Suzanne De Walt. Co-producer Jamie Gordon. Executive producers John Cusack, D.V Divincentis, Steve Pink, Gary Howsam, Kathy Morgan, Charles Weber. Director of photography Hubert Taczanowski. Costume designer Carolyn Greco. Production designer Maria Nay. Music supervisors Susan Jacobs and Lynn Geller. Original music Page Hamilton. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. Paul Dillon as Cab Driver. Michael Ironside as Al. Laura Kellogg Sandberg as Bug-Eyed Woman. Michael Shannon as Crack Head. Shulie Cowen as Stoner Girl. Philip Van Lear as Father-to-Be.