Sometimes I get bored making the big bucks in the high stakes game of film criticisms, so I like to dabble in the deep dark underbelly of the ride-sharing industry. So instantly, I connected with the opening moments of Jeremy Ungar’s Ride.
James (Jessie T. Usher) is a struggling actor working nights in Los Angeles as a “Ride” driver to make ends meet. Tonight, James is looking sharp, dressed in an impressive suit worn for an audition earlier that day. His first passenger of the night is Jessica (Bella Thorne), a struggling singer, who needs a ride to the hot nightclub du jour to meet some friends for a drink.
Jessica and James hit it off talking about life in L.A. and the two form a mini-connection. Jessica invites James to join her and her friends for the night, but James declines because he needs to work. Jessica leaves the offer open.
James’ next ride is Bruno (Will Brill), a fast-talking, seemingly influential, guy with an abrasive personality with no apparent destination for this ride. His charismatic and aggressive demeanor that gets James to allow him to smoke in his car (against “Ride” policy), accept a large tip (against “Ride” policy) and ultimately gain James’ trust to open up about his personal life.
“Now begins a game of manipulation and control forcing James to rob a liquor store…”
Bruno decides to hire James for the evening (against “Ride” policy). Bruno pays James handsomely to take him to a sketching meeting in MacArthur Park, a gathering point of L.A.’s homeless population. As a gesture of friendship, which we clearly see as something sinister, Bruno dares James to go back to the nightclub and ask Jessica to join the two for a party at Bruno’s home in Malibu. The charismatic Bruno pumps James up with enough to courage to actually pull it off.
With Jessica in tow, Bruno’s true motivation comes to light with the revelation of a nice hefty pistol. Now begins a game of manipulation and control forcing James to rob a liquor store and Jessica to steal drugs from a local pharmacy.
Ride is set in Los Angeles at night. There’s a reason many independent films are shot in L.A. at night. It’s beautiful and cinematic, especially at night (says this native-born Angeleno). The film’s transition wonderfully captures the city at night, which brings us to my second pet peeve–the complete lack of geography. The transitions are pieces together to look good as a visual transition but don’t work if you were to actually drive their route through the city at night. Ride refusing to take into account the actual map of the city of Los Angeles, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the Wilshire district. When heading east to west or west to east in L.A. you hit your landmarks in a certain order, which is ignored in Ride. Yes, I’ll admit I’m being incredibly petty right now and it would only bother a person who knows the city.
The ultimate ride in Ride is fun and thrilling but is problematic in a few areas. Consider throughout the film James is constantly asking Bruno, “Where are we going?” Ironically, the audience is asking the exact same question. It isn’t until the final act that we get a sense of it.
“You’ll want to hate and never trust the real actor Will Brill…”
In that final act, every plot point, inane conversation, and visuals cues all come together in the ultimate revelation. Which is cool, but crescendos in a quick final moment of resolution. The eighty minutes of asking “Where are we going?” ends with “Oh, that’s it?” The final moment feels like a ten-minute cat-and-mouse chase crammed into two with a villainous speech that fails to land its punch.
That said the performances are quite good in Ride. Bella Thorne is on the right track on shaking off her Disney Channel aura. She develops a nice connection with Jessie T. Usher as they move from flirty to perilous moments. You’ll want to hate and never trust the real actor, Will Brill, he that good at intimidating his targets.
Ultimately, Ride is more a character study in the art of domination and manipulation. Bullying someone to the point that they’ll commit unspeakable acts with nothing to gain. Strip out the thriller moments and you have an interesting film, instead, we’re left with a mediocre thriller that phones in the final act.
Ride (2018) Written and directed by Jeremy Ungar. Starring Jessie T. Usher, Bella Thorne, Will Brill. Ride screened at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Festival.
5 out of 10 stars