'Joy Ride' is a trip

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday July 4, 2023
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Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu, Ashley Park, and Sherry Cola in 'Joy Ride.' (photo: Ed Araquel/Lionsgate)
Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu, Ashley Park, and Sherry Cola in 'Joy Ride.' (photo: Ed Araquel/Lionsgate)

The friends trip gone wrong — from "Deliverance" to "The Hangover" to "Girls Trip" — is a tried-and-true formula of which audiences can't seem to get enough. This also means that copycats abound, which can be both good and bad.

That's the best way to describe "Joy Ride" (Lionsgate). It's a good and bad copycat that gets off to a great start, lags a bit, and then surprises us with scenes that are alternately outrageous and heartbreaking.

The opening scene alone, when young Lolo (Chloe Pun) and Audrey (Isla Rose Hall) are introduced on a Seattle playground, gets the movie off to a great start. Best friends throughout childhood, even though they couldn't possibly be more different. Audrey is a straight-A (and Type A) student, while Lolo is more of the class clown.

Still BFFs as adults, Audrey (Ashley Park), now a successful lawyer up for partner, and Lolo (out actor Sherry Cola), a struggling visual artist with a proclivity for the sexually graphic, rents Audrey's garage as her home. Lolo's traditional parents own a restaurant where they reject the idea of displaying her artwork.

When an opportunity for a work-related trip to Beijing arises, Audrey asks Lolo, who is fluent in Mandarin, to accompany her on her journey. Also joining them (against Audrey's wishes) is Lolo's socially awkward cousin Vanessa, better known as Dead Eye (non-binary actor Sabrina Wu), who is a massive K-Pop fan.

While in Beijing, Audrey also plans to reunite with former college roommate Kat (out, Oscar-nominated actor Stephanie Hsu), now a huge star in Chinese cinema and TV. Kat, who is engaged to her hot, Christian-fanatic co-star Clarence (Desmond Chiam) hopes to keep her wild past (including a tattoo on her vagina) a secret. Initially, there is uneasiness and competitiveness between Kat and Lolo leading to some funny exchanges.

Multiple complications surface over the course of the trip. Chao (Ronny Chieng), the businessman with whom Audrey must close a deal, puts her through her paces, making her decide to find her birth mother (she was adopted as an infant by a Caucasian American couple).

An interaction with an American drug dealer on a train is borderline catastrophic and hysterical. A sexually charged episode with the members of a Chinese basketball team is completely over-the-top. But the biggest twist occurs when the truth about Audrey's birth mother is revealed, leading to an additional trip, this time to Seoul.

By this point, the limits of friendship have been tested, stretched, and bent out of shape. Rest assured; a hard-won happy ending is in the works. For all its comedic highs (and they are plentiful), "Joy Ride" also features a genuinely tear-jerking moment when Audrey watches a video from her birth mother. This directorial debut of co-screenplay writer Adele Lim (who also co-wrote the "Crazy Rich Asians" screenplay), also features an au courant scene involving Dead Eye near the finale. Rating: B


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