Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Danny Glover, Leelee Sobieski, Steve Zahn, Togo Igawa, Richard O’Brien
Written and Directed by Brian King
I still can’t decide if Night Train reminded me more of an episode of the new “Twilight Zone” from the 2000’s, the new “Outer Limits” from the 90’s, or the new “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” from the 80’s. Definitely one of the above; I’m just not sure which. I’m leaning towards “The Outer Limits” from the 90’s just because like darn near every episode of that series, it all boils down to a not-so-happy conclusion with a somewhat ambiguous open ending. Night Train probably would have worked out better had it been streamlined to fit into a sixty-minute episodic program.
It’s Christmas Eve and a mysterious passenger carrying a small box boards a train car with fast-talking salesman Steve Zahn and med student Leelee Sobieski (dressed more like a 1960’s French art student if you ask me), the two reunited for the first time since Joy Ride. Very shortly thereafter that man quietly passes away from what appears to be natural causes. Zahn peeks inside the box, sees the man has been carrying a fortune in diamonds, and let’s it be known when conductor Danny Glover comes to collect a ticket from the now dead man that they should keep the diamonds for themselves. Once Sobieski gets a look inside, she too decides they ought to dump the man’s body from the train and make off with the box before anyone ever realizes he or it are missing. Glover wants no part of any of this at first, but with a sick wife and mounting bills, he too falls prey to the lure of the box’s contents.
Ever see Shallow Grave? If so, now imagine it on a speeding night train and toss in a touch of the supernatural.
The three scheme to ditch the body and split the fortune before the next stop, turning on one another in the process. Especially Sobieski, who very quickly goes from mousy med student to dangerous femme fatale willing to lie, seduce, and even kill in order to claim the box for herself and only herself. Sobieski acquits herself much better as a deranged killer here than she did in the dreadful 88 Minutes last year where she was quite unconvincing in the role of a scheming sociopath. Glover also shines as the conflicted moral center of the story, a righteous but desperate man trying not to give into temptation. That leaves Steve Zahn as the weak link with the least amount of character to his character. Rather a shame given Zahn can usually be counted on to bring a tremendous amount of charisma to his roles.
Initially I found the speed at which Zahn and Sobieski were eager to commit heinous acts in order to claim the box’s fortune a bit hard to believe. Zahn says to ditch the body within seconds after looking inside without a moment’s hesitation as to what he’s suggesting, and Sobieski practically displays her psychotic side in no time flat. It all begins to feel a bit more plausible when we come to learn that the box has a potentially fatal supernatural element to it that plays on people’s desires and brings out the worst in them. Since we’ll never get a fully satisfying explanation as to what the box is, think of it as sort of Pandora’s MacGuffin.
A porter, a pair of backgammon-playing Japanese businessmen, and Richard O’Brien of all people doing Dame Edna duty round out the other passengers on this sparsely ridden train that the trio have to interact with and work around to carry out their plans, some of whom have their own agendas. None of these supporting players or their motivations are suitably developed and ring hollow. O’Brien’s drag routine is downright strange, and eventually it becomes apparent that being surreal is the only reason the character is there in the first place.
Though the low budget is evident throughout, writer-director King crafts a stylishly gloomy look for both the inside and outside of the train. If not for the Christmas lights strung up and the eventual appearance of a cellular phone, the train’s interiors have such an old timey look, the era in which the film is set could easily have been revealed to be early 20th Century. Computer rendered exterior shots of the train and the nighttime landscape complete with digitized snowfall brought to mind a horror movie version of The Polar Express. Not that The Polar Express wasn’t creepy enough to begin with what with all those unsettling motion capture children’s faces ready made to haunt your dreams.
So, yeah, there you go. Night Train, a slight thriller that has difficulty sustaining itself at times, ends on something of a flat note and is nowhere near as creepy as The Polar Express.
2 1/2 out of 5
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