A taxicab driver named Harris (Gino Anthony Pese) gets a call to pick up someone in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing on the radio except alien conspiracy theories and discussions on the female orgasm. Dispatch calls to ask his ETA to the fare. A few minutes later, he picks up Penny (Brinna Kelly). They talk amicably for awhile then she disappears. Poof! Gone. He slams on the brakes and looks around, but she is nowhere to be found. His seatbelt won’t unfasten. He calls in to dispatch but only gets questions about his sobriety. Being a good cabbie, he shrugs it off and prepares for his next fare. For no matter how strange this ride is, there is always someone else next in line.
He resets the meter and finds himself driving down that same stretch of road. The same alien conspiracies are being spouted on the radio. The same call from dispatch comes in about his ETA. He picks up the same girl. But Harris doesn’t seem to notice. It is just another call to him on another lonely night. The same things happen. They chat amicably again, the topics are the same even if the words are slightly different. Then she disappears again. Poof! Reset the meter and it goes again. Then again.
It is Groundhog's Day except in a cab. But the driver doesn’t seem to notice. Until he does. During one of the rides, he hits something, causing him to jam the brakes sending Penny through the glass divider. When he grasps her hand to see if she’s alright, he gets a flash of memory.
Up to this point, the film has been shot in black and white, but at those flashes, director D.C. Hamilton brings in the color. Just for a moment, as if to say that flash is reality and this world is not. That flash brings back something to Harris, but it doesn’t last. The ride starts over and that memory is like an itch in the back of his brain. More rides follow, and the memories and the color slowly come back.
Why these two are stuck in this seemingly endless loop is what the film is about. Or at least the plot of it is. It is an intriguing idea, even if it has been done in other films. Things develop in different ways from those other films, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. There were moments I was truly surprised at, and others where I was excited to see what happens next. Then, there were others where I wanted to screech at the television and give it a resounding raspberry. The story’s resolution made me want to throw the whole thing out at first, but upon further thought, I actually find it interesting. But I don’t think it holds up. It didn’t do the work to get there and too many of its choices don’t do it for me.
Brinna Kelly wrote the screenplay as well as stars. There are enough interesting ideas here to keep her on my radar, and with a few more drafts, The Fare might have added up to something quite wonderful. There is a long stretch in the middle in which Harris and Penny are talking, getting to know each other. It is cut in a way that makes me think it was mostly improvisational and meant to have the hilarious charm of an early Kevin Smith movie, but it is overlong and not at all funny.
At its heart, The Fare is a love story. It isn’t much of a spoiler to say that its two leads (its only actors for most of the film) fall in love. The way that relationship unfolds is the highlight of the film. The ways in which memories (or the forgetting of the same) enrich our lives and relationships with others or ensnare us in an unending hell is a fascinating theme for a sci-fi film about two people stuck in a cab.
Clearly made on a tiny budget, The Fare puts what money it has to good use. It surely helped that the only setting is a cab, but the lighting is good and the transitioning from black and white to full color is a really interesting creative choice. Less good are the exterior shots which must have been made with computer animation that looks more like Toy Story 1 than Toy Story 4.
Despite its flaws, The Fare is well worth watching. It has some interesting ideas and takes them some interesting (and yes, some not-so-interesting) places. It isn’t as funny as it wants to be nor as heartwarming as it thinks it is, but for a low budget sci-fi flick with zero star power, it has enough going for it to keep you talking afterward.
Extras include audio commentary from D.C. Hamilton and Brinna Kelly; alternate, deleted and extended scenes; plus a gag reel; and making-of featurettes.