In today’s service-based economy, it’s all about creating the best experience for your customers in order for them to return. Gone is the authentic customer service experience, replaced with a script meant to feel honest. More often than not, we recognize the difference between real and false, but when we take the system for granted, we open ourselves up for exploitation. Taking this idea to the next level is writer/director Jeremy Ungar in his feature debut Ride, a confined techno-thriller in which a great night turns sour all because of an exploit.
Actor by day, Ryde driver by night, James (Jessie T. Usher) roams the streets of Los Angeles waiting for a ping on his Ryde app. Luck seems to be on his side when his first fare for the night is the lovely Jessica (Bella Thorne), a young woman headed out for an evening of drinks with her friends. After some nonchalant banter to ease the tension of strangers going on a car ride, the conversation turns more cordial and warm, leading Jessica to invite James to join her for drinks. In his hesitation to answer, a Ryde request pops up from another fare, prompting James to turn Jessica’s invitation down. While not as lovely as Jessica, the charismatic Bruno (Will Brill) manages to convince James to break Ryde protocol and take him on several stops rather than just the one, giving them time to get to know one another. Upon finding out that James turned down Jessica, Bruno insists that James go back and invite her to join them for a party in Malibu. What starts as a fun night on the town for three new friends quickly turns into a fight for their lives when one of them has more sinister plans for the evening.
At face value, Ride seems like an amalgamation between Michael Mann’s Collateral and Henry Joost/Ariel Schulman’s Nerve: combining the tension of a small cast in a confined space with the misplaced trust of technology to keep us safe. Thankfully, while it does possess elements that may remind audiences of these other two films, Ride is clearly its own entity. Ride not only possesses a clever story with smart characters, it manages to find organic ways to increase tension while carrying the story forward. Never once do the characters behave in a manner irregular for the circumstances and not once does Ungar’s script dumb itself down for the audience. In a moment straight out of a Rom-Com, Bruno suggests pulling over so that James and Jessica can dance, joking that this would be a great “first date” story. Using Jessica’s phone, he snaps a few photos, pocketing the phone as the three quickly hop back into the car. The camera lingers on this action just enough to ensure the audience sees it, offering a chance to process the undertone of the action, before moving on to the next shot. It creates a wonderful anxiety for the audience as we don’t know why Bruno doesn’t hand the phone back. Small moments like these are dropped throughout the film, requiring the actors to work precisely in conjunction with the director, instilling delicious tension throughout Ride.
There are many reasons to salute a tight runtime – whether it’s over 2-hours or under 90-minutes – but the strongest is in how it serves the narrative. Ungar wastes no time introducing his characters and setting up their dynamics which will propel the whole of Ride. Each character is given an opportunity to shine, demonstrating some level of ingenuity that fits naturally within the scenario. Jessica’s presented as cool under pressure that goes beyond characterization from her tough-but-sexy outfit. As a woman, she’s likely either been in uncomfortable situations or thought-through how she might have to handle herself, so the choices she makes as things trend menacing seem very natural. Similarly, James is initially presented as a guy too worried about how things look to take action on anything. Yet, when faced with choices quickly becoming life-or-death, that same sense of responsibility offers perfectly reasonable solutions. In fact, it’s clear that all three are working angles at all times as they jockey for position, each trying to out-think and outmaneuver for control. Combined with engaging chemistry between all three leads, audiences will almost wish that Ride was longer just to spend more time with them. However, Ungar’s script isn’t designed to draw out the experience, but to cut to the chase, making the whole experience a quick, fun ride.
General audiences may not notice on an initial viewing, but Ungar drops subtle nods throughout Ride regarding society. Upon thinking about the film, it’s clear his purpose isn’t just to entertain, but to get his audience thinking about how they use tech. Sure, it’s great for ordering merchandise and food, but when we begin to rely on it for things like transportation, what do we open ourselves up to when we trust in the system and not the people? Until the banter turns friendly, Jessica barely looks at James. This could be because, as a woman getting into a car with a strange man, she wants to reduce interactions as a protection method. While it’s certainly wise, she doesn’t seem to verify that James is her driver. She trusts that aspect of the app, even when conversation indicates that she’s less familiar with how the Ryde app works. Similarly, James doesn’t work to verify that Bruno matches the photo that appears in the profile. This level of trust is dangerous to those that’ll exploit it, making Ride as much a thriller as a cautionary tale.
On the whole, Ride is a good time. The characters are smart, the script is tight, and nothing about either is dumbed down for the audience. Though there’re some problems with the audio red-lining as Paul Haslinger’s (Fear the Walking Dead) techno score and dialogue overlap. There is also a very visible moment where Thorne can’t keep a straight face as Brill’s Bruno belts out Ignition by R. Kelly in a scene meant to be tense. These things are forgivable, however, since everything else is so well thought-out and executed. Although, to be fair, Brill is obviously having such a great time, it’d likely be hard for anyone to keep a straight face while shooting the scene. If you’re looking for a good time, check out Ride. It won’t disappoint.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.