When most people think of Helen Hunt they think of Jaime Buchman, the urbane New Yorker she played for 162 episodes on “Mad About You.” In her new film Ride, which she also wrote and directed, she plays an urbane, if somewhat more uptight riff on Jaime. She’s a hotshot New York City book editor who gives up everything to be near her son in California and to enjoy the California sun.
A-type Jackie (Hunt) is a stickler for details. A high-powered book editor, she is the kind of person who corrects your grammar and shoots you a withering glance while doing so. Her son Angelo (Brenton Thwaites) is an aspiring writer who is slowly being crushed by the pressure of being related to one of the city’s top literary figures. To escape, he quits school and heads to Los Angeles to stay with his hippy-dippy dad (Robert Knepper). Jackie follows him to the coast, and in an unlikely twist, throws herself into surf culture in an attempt to connect with her son. With the help of her chauffeur (David Zayas) and surf instructor Ian (Luke Wilson) the trappings of her old life begin to melt away as it dawns on her that she has given her life to work and not her family.
“Hang Ten” Hunt’s second surfing film—the first, “Soul Surfer” was released in 2011—finds her with sturdy sea legs as a director, less so as a writer.
“Ride” has some interesting elements— Thwaites is suitably brooding as a son trying to make his own way in the world and the surfing scenes are shot with aplomb—but the three characters who occupy the bulk of screen time, Jackie, Ian and driver Ramon, are straight out of Central Casting. The performances are fine, but the character work is more suited to a sit com than the big screen. Of the three Ramon gets off the easiest, mostly staying in the background, existing primarily to act as a tour guide to Jackie’s fish-out-of-water routine. Jackie and Ian, however, are put through their paces front and center in a series of sit com style clichés meant to move the story forward. She laughs uncontrollably after smoking a joint, he suggests an unlikely (untrue and frankly, unsanitary) cure for a surfing injury.
It’s all perfectly amiable but also feels like we’ve seen it before. Comedy and drama butt heads in awkward transition to one another as Jackie flip flops from ridiculous behaviour to introspective resolve, often in the same scene. It’s meant, I guess, to add depth to the characters and situations but instead feels convenient and easy. For example, no one as career minded as Jackie is going to laugh uproariously after getting fired, even if they have just smoked a joint. Or, in this case, taken a cursory toke or two. It’s a bizarre way of presenting a major change in her life and doesn’t seem in character at all.
“Ride” isn’t a complete wipe-out, but it feels more VOD than big screen.