Studio: RLJE Films
Director: Jeremy Ungar
Writer: Jeremy Ungar
Producer: Sefton Fincham, Tyler Jackson, Keith Kjarval
Stars: Jessie T. Usher, Bella Thorne, Will Brill
Three people have their lives in Los Angeles forever changed when a rideshare takes an unexpectedly terrifying turn.
‘Server’ and ‘bartender’ used to be the everyday jobs synonymous with ‘struggling actors.’ Nowadays, 21st-century technology has catapulted ‘rideshare driver’ to a top spot on the list of what Hollywood’s hungriest do when they aren’t auditioning or aspiring. At least, that’s the current gig for James (Jessie T. Usher), a genial gentleman whose lone claim to fame involves a bit role as ‘Henchman’ on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
James’ night of offering water and gum while dropping fares at Los Angeles hotspots takes an upturn when he meets Jessica (Bella Thorne). Initially invested only in her phone, Jessica warms up to James through casual conversation and the duo takes a mutual interest in one another.
Possibly channeling personal feelings regarding prominent billing for her third-place role, Thorne plays disinterested well. There’s still no denying that the actress can trickle out charm without truly trying, and she does that here to sleekly melt Jessica into a personable social butterfly James arranges to meet later. Without much room to play until then, Usher and Thorne’s forced romantic spark fizzles, although the duo does foster believable friendship chemistry.
In need of a new fare, James picks up Bruno (Will Brill) and “Ride” soon shifts up a gear. The film’s single-sentence summary already announces that Bruno is a fuse in search of a flame. But Bruno and “Ride” have plenty of places to take us before his wild card turns face up on the table.
Seeming at the start like a predictable caricature, Bruno quickly evolves into a fascinating figure. With a shabby lounge lizard exterior complementing brusque skittishness (“who wants to know?” he says with a surly cigarette and suspicious eye when James asks his identity), Bruno clearly comes equipped with a hidden switch ready to flip into full psycho mode as soon as someone touches his trigger.
But Will Brill sneakily builds Bruno brilliantly using an insistent personality with surprising infectiousness. In spite of the tingling Spider-Sense, Bruno becomes more of an unfiltered friend whom you worry about saying the wrong thing at a party as opposed to an outright unsettling creep. It’s simple to see how he ultimately manipulates James and then Jessica because he gives you your own sense of guilt about feeling uncomfortable in his presence. Bruno sells himself as the kind of person you possibly judged unfairly based on an unflattering first impression, and now could be the cool key to an unusually exciting new nightlife.
I screened “Ride” just days after seeing the unfunny pizza-themed slasher “Slice,” in which Will Brill also appears. Brill’s “Slice” (review here) performance disappeared from my memory so fast, it only qualifies as a glancing thud that barely registered rather than an actual impression. What a difference work-shopped material and earnest commitment makes.
What Brill does to keep Bruno from being a standard cinema sociopath is remarkable. The character has a quick anecdote, answer, comment, or comeback for every question and situation, and Brill makes Bruno live inside each line.
“Ride” features nearly nonstop conversation. Yet this is one of the few dialogue-dominant movies featuring only three people crammed into a single setting that doesn’t feel like a stage play struggling to be a feature film. Aided visually by the car’s constant motion and cutaways to colorful city scenery, “Ride” feels fluid even when it idles in establishing sequences.
Bruno eventually turns into a man who can no longer hide the contempt he has for his own lot in life because he is all too aware of his situation. Since Bruno wears a false face for much of the movie, it’s inaccurate to call “Ride” a character study. It’s more of a vicarious viewing experience where we watch this peculiar person unspool untruths in intriguing ways.
Oddly, regrettably, unfortunately, or whatever word you prefer for expressing a “tch” hissed out of your mouth’s corner, “Ride” ironically starts losing steam at the same time it finally starts ramping up. While the extensive interplay between Bruno and James won’t necessarily fill the stomachs of viewers who signed up for a pure thriller, “Ride” has far less enticement to offer once it graduates into typical movie mode.
The first two acts are the film’s best parts. Even with as much rambling as it does, “Ride” doesn’t come off like it’s spinning its wheels waiting for tension to explode. Patience breeds suspense. But to fill what should be a brisk 75-minute runtime, the movie goes up on two wheels with desperate last ditch attempts at artificial action, and spins right out of reality as a result.
One dopey development sees someone walking into a store at an opportune moment to witness a well-timed TV news report, the modern equivalent of a character coming across convenient exposition in a newspaper headline while stopped at a gas station. The biggest eye-roll of all occurs underneath a pool cover during the finale. It’s a moment easily identified by your unintentional groan.
“Ride” coasts on cruise control towards an easy recommendation for Will Brill’s performance alone. Then the conveyor belt of contrivances creates a pileup demanding to drag down the grade.
Regardless, I prefer this angle of an unstable rideshare passenger to the truer-to-life premise of a homicidal driver as seen in the similarly named and themed “Ryde” (review here). It’s too bad writer/director Jeremy Ungar couldn’t concoct a finish as strong as his start. Thanks to a denouement unable to find a motivated direction, “Ride” turns from a promising acting showcase into routine sensationalism with an objectively awful ending.
I still rate the film favorably for giving us all something sinister to mull over the next time we ride in Uber Pool or Lyft Line. After all, you never really know whom you are getting into a car with. And as “Ride” proves, initially inviting appearances may turn out to be disappointingly deceiving.
Review Score: 65