Review: Joyride (1977)


Directed by Joseph Rubin
Starring Desi Arnaz, Jr., Robert Carradine, Melanie Griffith, Anne Lockhart

I’ve been actively job-hunting for more than three months now, and it’s beginning to dawn on me that I’m never going to have the job I’d once wished for. This is the last in a series of bleak realizations that I certainly share with most college graduates: The money you spend getting an education won’t buy you the life you want. In fact, that money is the first pit we have to dig ourselves out of, using the tools provided to us by an ailing job market in a broken economy. That first pit is important, as it loosens the soil enough to allow for deeper and deeper pits, each accompanied by another disappointing truth our parents and teachers never prepared us for.

But that’s how the world works. We have needs; other people have needs; everyone has responsibilities; nobody is exempt.

This is what Joyride tries to discuss. Scott, John and Susie quit dead-end jobs in California and set off for Alaska with half-baked dreams of an easy fortune found in salmon fishing, only to find themselves broke and in need of new dead-end jobs. It’s an interesting idea (three characters going full-circle in the first half of a movie) before the screenwriters realize they still have a few more reels to fill, so they have Scott attempt to prevent the transportation of stolen equipment (although he himself had no problem stealing from a grocery store), which results in the trio getting booted from their jobs. This contrived character moment makes for an unlikely bridge between the first, interesting half of the movie and the second, not-so-interesting half in which our desperate young heroes steal money from a payroll office and become fugitives on the lam from the law.

Nevertheless, that first half is intriguing. Scott, John and Susie are realistic twenty-somethings steeped in stupidity and ennui. When they first arrive in Alaska, they immediately seek out the nearest bar and drink until they pass out. They steal groceries, shoot animals with black-market firearms, and spend their evenings slow-dancing to ELO songs (in this universe, every song on every jukebox is ELO). For a second, the movie feels like a mini riff on Straw Dogs, as director Joseph Ruben subtly ratchets up the tension between the townspeople and the young trio, effectively setting viewers up for a climactic confrontation.

But then we’re in Bonnie & Clyde territory. The movie becomes stale social commentary: The youngsters steal cash because a hostile environment drove them to do so. Or was it ennui? Which sociology book are we reading? Oh – it’s called Joyride.

The movie depicts 1970s Alaska as a crime-ridden hellscape in which every civilian from every walk of life requires a sidearm. A long night in a bar ends in a violent brawl. Old men are lecherous sex offenders. Mom and Pop convenience stores are ransacked daily. Our protagonists are surrounded by moral corruption and hostility until they predictably turn into criminals themselves. Alaska’s crime rates in the late 1970s were relatively high, but Joyride wants the state to feel like the last saloon in the Old West. Once our protagonists begin winning money through literal pissing contests, Joyride firmly plants both feet in fantasy and never looks back.

By the end of the movie, once all the characters had been reduced to formless shapes, I found myself reworking my résumé and checking to see if any potential employers had answered my e-mails. I turned on ELO’s A New World Record.

Here’s to salmon fishing and trite contrivances; may we one day find ourselves in familiar waters.


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