Shock value alone can’t save this R rated comedy from Crazy Rich Asians writer Adele Lim.
PLOT: Four friends travel across China in search of one of their birth mothers.
REVIEW: In the year 2018 the film Crazy Rich Asians was released to near universal acclaim. The film became a cultural milestone as it not only was the first studio film to feature a mostly Asian cast in over 25 years but also because it was a bonafide hit, raking in $238.5 million against a $30 million budget, not to mention that it was actually a solid movie with some genuine laughs. With that type of success, you would have expected to see a lot more Asian fronted films in its after math, but with the exception of a select few like 2018’s Searching featuring an awards worthy performance by John Cho, 2019’s The Farewell where Awkwafina won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy and last years multi-Academy Award winning Everything Everywhere All At Once, there hasn’t been the onslaught of Asian fronted films as one may have expected. A sequel to Crazy Rich Asians has yet to materialize, mostly because one of the films original writers, Adele Lim, left the project after a pay dispute with Warner Brothers. Lim wouldn’t just sit idly by, her and screenwriters Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao would craft a story about four Asian friends who travel to China in search of one of their birth mothers who gave her up for adoption right after birth. After Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg signed on to produce the film through a first look deal they have with Lionsgate, they signed Lim on to make her feature directorial debut and two years later we have the very hard R rated Joy Ride.
Now comes the unfortunate part where I must admit: I just didn’t find this movie very funny. It suffered from what so many comedies suffer from: it tried to be funny instead of actually being funny. This was a hard R rated movie complete with sex and drugs and a close up of a tattoo of Satan where his mouth is not made of ink, that only garnered a few chuckles from me.
Joy Ride started off fine as we follow Audrey (Ashley Park) being sent to China to close a deal for her law firm while also setting up that she was given up at birth and adopted by a white couple in America where she would make friends with Lolo (Sherry Cola). We see that Audrey grew up to become a a successful lawyer while Lolo turned out be a bit of a loser who lives in Audrey’s guest house. This was the start of the cliche’s I noticed in the movie as the characters didn’t seem all that original: we had the lead character who seems like everything is perfect but we soon realize her life is anything but, the best friend who is a loser without a care in the world until you find out that they are putting on a mask for that world, the weird friend who tends to be super awkward and say weird things, but is ultimately super lovable with great words of wisdom when they are needed the most and last is the friend who has a great life, no problems at all, until they hang out with the rest of them and have their entire existence unraveled.
As I watched the film I started to compare the characters to those from The Hangover and Bridesmaids, checking off the traits each character displayed in connection to those other, better, R rated comedies. The fault was not with the actors as they were all quite excellent in their roles. The script simply didn’t have enough there to support the barrage of gross out gags that were flung at the audience. Which is perhaps where my problem ultimately lies with this film. When I took Improv classes, one thing that was taught was that when someone can’t think of something on stage, they will resort to throwing around the F word and trying to think of the most asinine thing in an attempt to garner laughs through shock value. This movie was the equivalent of an improv performer on stage who had nothing to say.
Joy Ride hits every beat you would expect it to hit in its relatively short 95 minute run time, with the final ten minutes devoted to the more emotional story beats that were foreshadowed at the beginning of the film. To the credit of everyone involved, the film does stick the landing in that regard, which is a testament to the strong performance from Ashley Park as this film was entirely about her journey and if we didn’t buy her performance, the ending comes off as laughable and not heartfelt.
As a fan of R-rated comedies, I was looking forward to seeing this movie as even though it followed a familiar formula of a group of friends on a road trip, it looked to offer a unique point of view that hadn’t been seen before. Sadly, the screenplay seems like the writers (two of which hail from TV’s Family Guy) just decided to throw out a bunch of over the top humor in the hopes that the sheer shock value would make people laugh while stringing together a story that we have seen done better in other movies.
I will end this by saying that in my relatively empty theater, 6 people total, there was a guy sitting about 8 seats away from me who was laughing at every single joke and genuinely having a grand time with Joy Ride, so even though this movie was not my cup of tea, others may drink it up.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/joy-ride-review/