Would you kill for the ride of your life?
More often than not, I enjoy the under-produced look and feel of independent/art house films. The emergence of adventurous, minimally funded filmmakers has given us El Mariachi (Robert Rodriguez), Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino), Clerks (Kevin Smith), Sling Blade (Billy Bob Thorton), Boys Don't Cry (Kimberly Peirce), and more. These films all have a raw, unspoiled quality, devoid of the major studios slick whitewashing. More importantly, the narrative is fresh and inventive—something we haven't already seen one hundred times before.
Joyride fails to possess any of these qualities.
Facts of the Case
In his directorial debut, writer/director Quinton Peeples brings us the story of JT (Toby Maguire, Spider-Man)—the whiny, restless son of a white trash, rat trap motel owner (Steven Gilborn, Wonder Years). Together with his best friend James (Wilson Cruz, My So Called Life) the two dream of adventures far from their backwater hometown in the armpit of Texas. For them, life is like a broken record—go to night school and get harassed by the local redneck thugs, sit around the motel pool and get drunk, and drive around town (while drinking) because there is nothing else to do. But wait—all this is about to change, with the arrival of a mysterious female stranger (Christina Naify, in her only film role). Dressed all in black and driving a fine set of wheels, she is the catalyst for change (even though she doesn't do anything until Act Two). Large quantities of alcohol give JT the courage to hit on Tanya (Amy Hathaway, My Two Dads), the other female motel guest and model/whore daughter of a pimp daddy businessman (Adam West, Batman). The three bond during an inebriated evening of skinny-dipping, establishing our protagonist trio of twentysomething troublemakers. Fast forward to one hot Friday night. While James' car lies dead in the parking lot, a fight breaks out between one of Tanya's clients and her father. JT uses the distraction to rescue Tanya and steal the mysterious Ms. Smith's car for a night on the town. Slight problem—she's a professional assassin and there's a dead body in the trunk. In a moment of sheer brilliance, JT decides to dump the body into the lake and use his fantastic powers of extortion to secure ownership of the car, in exchange for not exposing Ms. Smith's secret. When two local fishermen discover the body, our trio of would be rebels without a clue quickly realize a walk on the wild side isn't as glamorous and exotic as it once seemed.
Simply put, this is a bad film. Writer Peeples has reached new lows in plot construction, character development, and dialogue—"Sometimes you have to kill the things you love and sometimes you don't." Director Peeples tries very hard to be artistic with lots of camera movement, unusual angles, and symbolic transitions—Adam West and the Dr. Pepper machine. Unfortunately, while trying so hard to be inventive, he forgets about cohesive storytelling—set in Texas, no character exhibits an accent and the scenery comes complete with Southern California palm trees.
Poor casting and bad acting certainly doesn't help his cause. Christina Naify is not the least bit believable as a cold-blooded, female version of Tony Soprano. Adam West is worse as the dopey con man using his daughter as a sampler for potential investors. Amy Hathaway and Toby Maguire run hot and cold as misguided kids too busy playing victims to make positive choices in life. Wilson Cruz is respectable as the sexually confused, morally stable, and guilt ridden member of the trio. However, the only possible reason to see this film is for the brief but highly entertaining performance of Benicio Del Toro (Traffic) as the investigating detective. He's the only cast member who's in on the joke and makes the most of a bad situation. Peeples would have been better off telling the story from his perspective. Then again, it wouldn't have done anything to improve this dog of a plot.
Adding insult to injury, the 1.33:1 full frame transfer has the grainy, washed out look of your standard independent film. Free from any noticeable defects or digital tampering, the otherwise vibrant colors do battle with the grain while the blacks waltz right through. The Dolby 2.0 audio track is nothing special, but there's nothing here to warrant more. Even the soundtrack leaves something to be desired. As for bonus features, there are none. Are you surprised? I'm not…relieved actually.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for the power of expressing one's creativity. Making films that provoke, inform, inspire, and entertain is a labor of love—especially for those filmmakers untainted by the inauthenticity and cynicism of Hollywood. My guess is Peeples, cast, and crew are well aware of how disappointing this project turned out to be. You have to give them credit for trying. Just don't waste your time or money watching it.
Joyride is hereby sentenced to a quick and painless death. Writer/Director Quinton Peeples is granted a complete pardon and asked to learn from his mistakes before making another film like this. This court now stands in recess.
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