Director: Gary Michael Schultz
Writer: Mike Dozier, Gary Michael Schultz
Producer: Gary Michael Schultz
Stars: Frank Zieger, Joey Bicicchi, Erin Breen, Llou Johnson, Sid Haig
When a bride becomes possessed by a demon on her wedding day, her brother and her husband are forced to set aside their differences as they travel to Las Vegas in search of an exorcist.
I don’t watch very many horror-comedies, but when I do, I like them to be like “Devil in My Ride.” Which is to say, genuinely funny. To be sure, “Devil in My Ride” hits a hurdle at the halfway hump and skids into a last half hour that is nowhere near as entertaining as the first. But the buildup to that crest boasts a good deal of slick humor with a juvenile exterior, yet a generous amount of offbeat cleverness layered into its interior.
Travis is the type of talk first, think later hustling goofball that is so likable, even his sister Doreen cannot be angry that her wedding is the first time she has seen him in years. Suddenly remembering that it is Doreen’s big day, Travis dumps his latest floozy like a hot rock and peels out to the banquet hall in his customized van, Black Mama. Along the way, Travis stops to help an old gypsy and ends up pilfering an eye-catching necklace as a wedding gift.
Reading the accompanying inscription as a reception toast results in guests running for their lives as a demon takes over Doreen, and her new husband Hank teams with Travis to put things right. Hank and Travis set off to see Sid Haig, who points the pair towards Las Vegas in search of a wedding chapel exorcist named Johnny Priest. Now the unlikely duo, having known each other for all of five minutes, plays a game of beat the clock as they race across the country to rid Doreen of her devil.
Not all audiences will be entranced by Travis’ roguish blend of white trash black sheep with a carefree hippie attitude. But whether it hits a viewer’s personal funny bone or not, Frank Zieger’s performance as Travis is the undeniable anchor of “Devil in My Ride.” Zieger’s pitch is tightly tuned to what makes Travis so charming, which is a street savvy huckster persona wobbling slightly askew from occasional thick-headedness. Travis has the “aw shucks” appeal of Paul Rudd’s character from “Our Idiot Brother” mixed with a sly car salesman who is much wiser than he lets on.
Like Travis, the overall comedic tone of “Devil in My Ride” is far smarter than its redneck façade might imply. Initial laughs come from the silliness of a ditzy tramp sincerely exclaiming, “you make me feel like a J.C. Penney model.” It’s no more lowbrow than a Farrelly Brothers zing, yet where “Devil in My Ride” really comes into its own personality is when the jokes decide to take greater risks with their unpredictability.
Random references are made to the ending of “Major League,” to a velvet painting of a redhead surfing on a hammerhead shark, and to a rumor that the demon possessing Doreen is the same one who taught Gene Simmons how to spit fire. Meanwhile, Travis throws out one-liners with blazing speed in his opening scenes. They roll so naturally that it feels as if he is crafting his crazy BS right on the spot.
Context aside, the reason why the humor works as well as it does is because they are not merely jokes for jokes’ sake. The nonsense from Travis’ mouth and the visual gags are more than mere punchlines. By the time the script deliberately steals a 1980’s comedy plotline by having Hank and Travis spontaneously enter a beach volleyball tournament to make some much-needed cash, “Devil in My Ride” settles into a rhythm where its yuk-yuks come with real development for the characters, and the absurdity is used to define their personalities as authentically enjoyable people to be around.
It is a well working formula that the movie unfortunately forgets when it reaches a less finely focused midsection. There comes a point when the frenzied fun and madcap moments take a sudden backseat to extended road trip montages set to generic hard rock music. The strength of the film is the energy between its characters, and that energy burns out during lulls where comedic interaction takes a breather for overlong sequences of establishing shots.
When the cast is not called upon to keep the pace lively, “Devil in My Ride” compounds its chief drawback by revealing its hand as being unpolished on the technical front. The film has a low quality look about it, which undermines the high quality script and cast. Much of the cinematography is overexposed or unbalanced with reddish tints and an unsteady hand holding the camera in place. In those spans when “Devil in My Ride” becomes a more traditional plotted movie, it loses the unique personality that makes it so appealing.
“Devil in My Ride” definitely falters from losing that step down its third act slope. The back half of the story all but cries out for the same kind of attention that the writers gave to the initial 30 minutes. Yet despite supporting characters that are not as strong, Frank Zieger makes sure that Travis can pick up a lot of the slack, and the film has it where it counts most for a movie that is intended to be funny above all else. That front loaded comedy is satisfying enough that the goodwill it earns makes the missteps seem far less important when taking the picture as a whole.
Review Score: 75