Featuring a cast of attractive young actors, a somewhat lurid storyline, and the unique atmospherics of Pacific Northwest locations (subbing for Alaska), Joyride should be a distracting romp about ’70s youths seeking adventure in the boonies. Weirdly, however, good intentions derailed the movie’s potential. Instead of being light entertainment with a sprinkling of sex and violence, Joyride sits uncomfortably on the fence between comedy and drama, and the film’s storyline is over-plotted. Lots of things happen, but they aren’t compatible with each other, and they don’t contribute to an overall impact. In trying to do a lot, the filmmakers somehow accomplished very little.
The picture begins in L.A., where friends Scott (Desi Arnaz Jr.) and John (Robert Carradine), together with John’s girlfriend, Susie (Melanie Griffith), decide to leave the big city for a new life as independent salmon fishers in Alaska. Arriving in the 49th state, the kids are chagrined to discover that work won’t be as easy to come by as they expected. The trio is also riven by romantic tension; not only does Scott lack a female companion, but some degree of threesome activity is implied. The story gets turgid once Scott and John start mixing it up with locals, because Joyride grinds through repetitive scenes of bar fights and such—a thread that culminates with a silly pissing-contest scene—until a fourth member joins the main group. She’s Cindy (Anne Lockhart), a sexy local who’s alternately presented as a prostitute, a tease, and a co-conspirator in a criminal enterprise. After hooking up with Scott, Cindy participates in a strange scheme whereby the Los Angelenos “kidnap” her and seek ransom from her employer, a pipeline company. Whatever.
Directed and co-written by admirable B-movie helmer Joseph Ruben (who later scored with pictures including the 1991 Julia Roberts thriller Sleeping With the Enemy), this American International Pictures release features a likeably loose vibe and stronger production values than those of the average AIP joint; the abundant location photography of open spaces covered with brooding skies lends credibility. But given the lack of a meaty central storyline, the picture sprawls across 92 logy minutes without any sense of purpose. Even the gimmick of all four leads being second-generation actors doesn’t add anything beyond a marketing hook. (Each of the four actors is okay in his or her undemanding role, with Arnaz the weakest link, but none does anything particularly special.) So, while there’s plenty of diverting stuff in Joyride, from the pop-song score peppered with Electric Light Orchestra hits to the topless scenes featuring Griffith and/or Lockhart, Joyride ends up feeling like a movie caught in an identity crisis. Is it a counterculture story about youths looking for a simpler life away from civilization? Is it a lovers-on-the-run crime saga? Is it a melodrama about romantic entanglements? Actually, it’s all of those things—and less.