Dre (Evan Ross) is a smart, by-the-bootstraps high school senior, someone on his way out of the ’hood into the bigger world. So when his girlfriend begs him not to hang out with his delinquent buddies, you know that he will and that there will be trouble. Actually, you’ve already seen the trouble.
In “96 Minutes” the writer-director Aimee Lagos, in her feature debut, begins by thrusting viewers into the middle of the action: a carjacking. In a jumpy, disorienting sequence, we see Dre at the wheel, his cretinous buddy Kevin (J. Michael Trautmann) beside him, and two terrified college girls, Carly and Lena, in the back seat, Lena bleeding from a Kevin-induced gun wound.
Ms. Lagos cuts back and forth from the car to how the four characters ended up on this nightmarish ride. Much of that exposition is awkward or overdetermined: the girlfriend’s warning to Dre; a college debate in which the eager-beaver Carly (Brittany Snow) argues for capital punishment; Kevin’s horrible home life and his violent video games.
But every time Ms. Lagos returns to the car, her film becomes tense and involving. You feel Carly and Lena’s fear, and you pull for Dre, hoping he’ll figure out how to do the right thing. The carjacking is Kevin’s doing, but Dre knows he’ll be called to account for it. The talented Mr. Ross makes Dre’s panic and adrenaline-fueled behavior all too believable. You watch as he sees his horizons dim. What could be sadder?
“96 Minutes” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has realistic violence and bad language.