Writer-director Jeff Stanzler-whose only previous credit of note is 1992's Jumpin' at the Boneyard-sets up a battle of wills between two people who meet one unfortunate night. Ashade (Abdellatif Kechiche) is a Syrian immigrant who has to make do driving a cab even though he's got a chemistry Ph.D. because he needs the work to help out the wife and child of his brother, who has been deported home due to a Homeland Security mistake. Unfortunately for him, into his cab climbs Phoebe (Robin Penn Wright, going digi-movie slumming), a barking-mad ball of nerves who works for a music-video network and demands that he drive her out to New Jersey. Once there, she makes the nervous and soft-spoken Ashade wait while she watches a house on a somnolent suburban street. Then, she walks over and scratches up a Lexus in the driveway, gets back in the cab and they take off. Phoebe's odd odyssey doesn't end there, as she talks her way into Ashade's sister-in-law's apartment, where she does her best to figure out all she can about their relationship. From there, a sort of test of wills develops, as Phoebe becomes obsessed with the idea of getting a lawyer she knows to help out Ashade's brother and slowly entangles Ashade in far more trouble than he could have imagined.

It goes without saying that Phoebe is a character to engender no little amount of audience ill will. Flickering from lying self-importance-she steals most of her best lines from her more successful friend and co-worker Phyllis (Sandra Oh)-to manic lecturing bossiness, she seems to exist solely to torment this quiet and hard-working immigrant. Wright plays her about as well as one could hope for, keeping it quite unclear whether Phoebe is truly insane or brilliantly manipulative. Stanzler's script fudges it, however, by making Phoebe so blatantly antisocial and troubled that it's utterly unrealistic that Phyllis and other people in Phoebe's life aren't begging her to get immediate psychiatric help. Kechiche gets what he can out of Ashade, who remains a cipher throughout the film, bottled-up, unreadable and viewed mostly through Phoebe's skewed prism. Only Oh and Josh Hamilton (who makes a short appearance as Phyllis' husband) bring any real instinct or passion to the project. The fact that they're playing bubble-headed yuppies is beside the point-their characters are the only ones who seem organic at all in the world of Stanzler's film.

What all this is leading up to only becomes apparent at the film's very end, a knuckle-duster shock that leaves more questions than it answers and whose sole function seems to be to leave a sour taste in one's mouth. There are weighty subjects broached here-the dumbing-down of culture by music television, post-9/11 paranoia, the shadowy and frightening world inhabited by many Arab immigrants-but none is handled with any maturity or depth, but simply tossed out there and swept away by an insulting and sadistic conclusion.

-Chris Barsanti