Los Angeles-based Uber driver James (Jessie T. Usher) picks up Jessica (Bella Thorne), a flirty passenger, and instantly regrets not asking for her number before he dropped her off at a bar. James’ next passenger, Bruno (Will Brill), proves evasive and annoying. However, he offers James a lot of extra cash if he drives him to multiple locations. As the night wears on Bruno seems to warm to James, taking an interest in his struggle as an aspiring actor and love life. He eventually spurs James to go back to the bar and bring Jess along to their next stop at a fun night spot. That is when Bruno and the night take a sinister turn.
Funny how certain tropes get recycled for each generation. Billed as a "cautionary tale aimed at a technology-obsessed society", Ride has a premise that prefigured the conceptually similar action-comedy Stuber (2019) but is also indebted to a legacy of psychotic carjacker stories. Both the opening act and certain aspects of the plot bring to mind Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004) though also evoke The Hitcher (1986), Ida Lupino’s cult favourite The Hitch-Hiker (1953) or even Italian thriller Hitch-Hike (1977). However, none of those films opened with a quote from W.B. Yeats: "There are no strangers here... Only friends you haven’t met." Playwright and theatre director Jeremy Unger clearly sees Ride as at least part satire of the Uber phenomenon and how the convenience of technology makes us reckless with personal information. Yet the film’s analysis of this theme is skin-deep. For the most part it is a fairly conventional thriller. No better, no worse.
To Unger’s credit the film takes time to establish likable protagonists with just the right amount of depth before it slowly weaves a mounting sense of unease. Leads Jessie T. Usher and Bella Thorne, both of whom share co-producer credits, bring a winning naturalism to what might otherwise prove an outlandish scenario and share easygoing chemistry. Similarly Unger’s snappy script does a nice job establishing Bruno as a recognizably irksome know-it-all L.A. hipster bro, rambling on about yak butter, artisanal coffee and legitimate theatre then gradually unveiling his true colours. Alas, once the film cranks into full-on thriller mode things get a little too theatrical and self-conscious. Bruno morphs into the kind of clichéd pseudo-intellectual id monster that dominated would-be hip road thrillers in the Nineties. A tech savvy super-villain endowed with lethal combat skills, the ability to psychoanalyze his victims and the self-satisfied wit of a stand-up comedian, dropping annoying pop culture references from Taxi Driver (1976) to The Dark Knight (2008). Just to underline his vileness he also forces captives to sing-along with R. Kelly’s ‘Remix to Ignition.’ While the film strains credibility solid performances (Will Brill might be saddled with an improbable villain, but plays it to the hilt) and steady direction (Ungar lends the film a slick neo-Eighties sheen evoking some of the style of Drive (2011)) keep things compelling and tense. That said as we head into the third act it becomes regrettably clear Ride has no idea how to wrap itself up and fizzles out with a flat denouement.