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Review: Despite good performances, L.A.-set neo-noir 'Ride' never gets anywhere

Review: Despite good performances, L.A.-set neo-noir 'Ride' never gets anywhere
Bella Thorne and Jessie T. Usher in the movie "Ride." (Rob C. Givens / RLJE Films)

Ride-share services like Uber and Lyft have changed our relationship with taxis and the way we think about cabbies. The most perceptive idea in writer-director Jeremy Ungar’s L.A. neo-noir “Ride” is that the driver protagonist, James (Jessie T. Usher), has been trained to treat his customers like friends, and they’re accustomed to reciprocating. That’s how James’ night goes awry.

Unfortunately, that’s about all there is to “Ride,” a well-acted film with decent dialogue but not much heft. In the short running time, James first picks up and flirts with a woman named Jessica (Bella Thorne), then moves on to the motor-mouthed Bruno (Will Brill), who cheerily encourages him to go find Jessica again. Once she’s back in the picture, Bruno pulls out a gun, and the evening gets weird.

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Though most of the movie takes place in a car, Ungar makes good use of the Los Angeles setting, if only because these three have a lot of opinions about movie history and showbiz glamor. But too much of their conversation turns to analyzing their emotions and personal histories and not about being held at gunpoint by a mysterious kook. Bruno’s mortal threat is mostly treated as an abstraction.

Ultimately, “Ride” feels a little like a drama class exercise, with the leads digging deep into their characters’ motivations and feelings. All three nail their parts. But their story never gets out of first gear.

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‘Ride’

Rated: PG-13, for mature thematic content involving violence, abuse, racial epithets and brief drug material

Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 5, Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood

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