Tuesday, February 6, 2024

3 A.M. (USA, 2001)

Not to be confused with any of the Thai series of portmanteau horror movies, 3 A.M. [2012 / trailer], 3 A.M. Part 2 [2014 / trailer], or 3 A.M. Part 3 [2018 / trailer].
(Spoilers) This 3 A.M. here is less supernatural than psychological. The debut feature film of director Lee Davis, who also wrote it, this largely forgotten and seldom seen NY-set drama explores the lives of diverse people while focusing mostly on a trio of cab drivers working for Love Cabs: former baseball flash-in-the-pan Hershey (Danny Glover of Silverado [1985 / trailer], Predator 2 [1990 / trailer], The Royal Tannenbaums [2001 / trailer], Saw [2004 / trailer] and more); Bosnian refugee Rasha Andrić (Sergej Trifunović of A Serbian Film [2010 / trailer] & The Last Serb in Croatia [2019 / trailer]), who has one car accident after another and is in love with a disinterested Bosnian hooker (Marika Dominczyk); and Salgado (Michelle Rodriguez of Resident Evil [2002 / trailer], BloodRayne [2005/ trailer], Machete [2010/ trailer] & Machete Kills [2013 / trailer], She Dies Tomorrow [2020 / trailer] and more) an emotionally unstable young cabbie battling demons real and imagined. 
Rounding out the three main characters are George (national treasure Pam Grier), Hershey's diner-waitress girlfriend, who worries that he might be the next cabbie to get killed and to whom he is unable to fully commit; Box (Sarita Choudhury of Innocence [2013 / trailer] and Fresh Kill [1994 / trailer]), the overworked owner of Love Cabs facing financial ruin; and diverse tertiary (or further removed) characters and cab passengers — including, briefly, the inordinately likeable new-father cab driver Singh (Aasif Mandvi of Movie 43 [2013 / trailer]), who exists and dies primarily to make the concept of a cab-driver killer a realistic, palpable threat to the viewer.
Trailer to
3 a.m.:
3 A.M. is set in that special New York City of films in which diverse people, despite the fact they are agitating within a city of roughly 8.5 million, constantly cross paths, and where time flows immaterially, taking a rhythm that is just perfect to make a multitude of events occur within an impossible timeframe. But accepting the fact that time is of no importance, the narrative of the film does well in keeping the viewer interested and intrigued, even managing to make us care and feel for the at times sketchily drawn characters as their narratives appear to spiral towards tragedy.
Unluckily, but for the open-ended but definitely not promising fate of Michelle Rodriguez's well-acted Salgado, director/scriptwriter Lee Davis displays an inability to let his characters suffer the dismaying fate that their personal storylines demand. In the case of Bosnian Rasha Andrić, Davis even allows a grown-inducing "miracle recovery" that renders that characters main moral quandary (and thus his entire storyline) a joke, regardless of the fact that the film ends with him on an airplane back to war-torn Bosnia, a return trip of open and unknown consequences to a family that could well all be dead.
And therein lies some of the problems of 3 a.m. While involving and well-shot and well-acted, the movie often feels less like a "real" feature film meant for the theatres than a well-made TV movie. Too often, that which happens — whether it be how quickly an unread contract is signed or a discovery of a suitcase of money or a silent guest continually observing in a diner — culminates in an unrealistic or overly magical reveal that slips towards sappy. As a result, 3 A.M. loses much of its bite and edge, making the overall effect of the movie far less exceptional or noteworthy or truly moving than, well, toothless. In the end, it feels like a movie that should be excellent but barely manages to achieve being good (and does that only if you are of the forgiving kind).
Flawed or not, 3 A.M. arguably does not deserve to be obscure as it is, if only for the fact that Michelle Rodriguez delivers an excellent performance, Glover & Grier make such a fetching couple, and Sarita Choudhury manages to give her one-note character surprising depth considering how little screen time she has. 
But obscure the film is, if probably less due to its overall underdevelopment than the fact that it was marketed so poorly. Sold as an action flick, it is anything but. Sure it has its scenes of gunshots and death, but above all it is a character-driven drama with a structure somewhat similar to a Robert Altman ensemble film — Nashville (1975 / trailer), Short Cuts (1993 / trailer), The Player (1992 / trailer), Kansas City (1996 / trailer), Ready to Wear (1994 / trailer), etc. — just with less white people and a lot fewer characters. 
Lee Davis is obviously far less interested in any of the actual gunshots shot or fights fought than the ramifications such events have, emotionally and psychologically, on the characters involved, or the resulting domino effect. Unluckily, he does his exploration from the viewpoint of an armchair, which makes 3 A.M. a rather shallow experience on the whole, despite the fascination that it casts while one watches it. Worth a watch, in any event.

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