‘Ride’: A Slice of Texas Bull-Riding Culture

This Texas cowboy melodrama is very all-American, and it’s a well-acted indictment of the bankrupting power of the American healthcare system.
‘Ride’: A Slice of Texas Bull-Riding Culture
Pete (Jake Allyn) in "Ride." (Well Go USA)
Mark Jackson
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R | 1h 48m | Crime, Drama | June 14, 2024

“Ride” features another actor (Jake Allyn of “No Man’s Land” and “Someone Like You”) offering the current jack-of-all-trades Hollywood calling card: He’s written, directed, produced, and stars in “Ride,” a Texas cowboy melodrama. It’s very all-American. And by that, I mean it’s an indictment of the bankrupting power of the American healthcare system.

(L–R) Dad John Hawkins (C. Thomas Howell), grandad Al (Forrie J. Smith), and grandson Pete (Jake Allyn), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)
(L–R) Dad John Hawkins (C. Thomas Howell), grandad Al (Forrie J. Smith), and grandson Pete (Jake Allyn), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)

What else can one call it when three generations of rodeo riders conspire, along with the son’s wife (a sheriff), to cover up the murder (and thievery of) the fresh-out-of-prison grandson’s drug dealer, in order to pay for the cancer treatment of the son’s daughter?

Got all that?

Breaking it Down

John Hawkins ('80s star C. Thomas Howell) is a grizzled, grey-bearded former rodeo star (Mr. Howell mastered lariat tricks for this role) whose little girl Virginia’s (Zia Carlock) malignant tumors have returned.
Grandpa Al (Forrie J. Smith) and granddaughter Virginia (Zia Carlock), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)
Grandpa Al (Forrie J. Smith) and granddaughter Virginia (Zia Carlock), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)

John’s son Peter (Mr. Allyn) has recently been released from prison and is attempting to carry on the family bull-riding tradition, except in his case, all his future winnings are already earmarked to pay off his drug debt.

Pete (Jake Allyn), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)
Pete (Jake Allyn), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)

All of the above are part of the reason why John’s wife Monica (Annabeth Gish, best known for 1988’s “Mystic Pizza”) left him. John must now attempt to offload “anything that’s sellable,” including his beloved horses, and go begging, hat in hand, for another mortgage and an early payout of his school teacher pension in order to come up with the staggering $160,000 for the new cancer treatment plan.

Monica Hawkins (Annabeth Gish) is the sheriff of Stephenville, Texas, in "Ride." (Well Go USA)
Monica Hawkins (Annabeth Gish) is the sheriff of Stephenville, Texas, in "Ride." (Well Go USA)
Monica’s the local sheriff, but she’s inexplicably passive when it comes to providing ideas or support in terms of how she and John are going to finance this 11th hour treatment.

Prodigal Son Returns

When 20-something Pete gets out of the slammer, granddaddy Al (cowboying stuntman and actor Forrie J. Smith) is the only one there to meet him. He was also the only one to visit Pete in jail. Pete did his time for a deadly DUI, which, in a small town like Stephenville, Texas, is not easily forgotten or forgiven.
(L–R) John Hawkins (C. Thomas Howell), Al (Forrie J. Smith), and Pete (Jake Allyn), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)
(L–R) John Hawkins (C. Thomas Howell), Al (Forrie J. Smith), and Pete (Jake Allyn), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)

Jake, jumping right back in the saddle, or rather, back on the bull, is summarily handed an excruciating case of dinged ribs by the local mean-tempered alpha bull. Which naturally puts Jake’s old nemesis, the opioid monkey—right back on Jake’s back. As mentioned at the outset, Jake’s gotta do whatever it takes to win, because those rodeo winnings go straight to his former prison cellmate and drug dealer Tyler (Patrick Murney).

Allyn’s got the perfect, sullen, haunted, cowboy-badboy-convict-addict face for this role. He’s only out-authenticized by real-deal cowboy Forrie J. Smith, who makes the following hard-won wisdoms, imparted to his grandson, feel epic, real, and lived-in: “Champions aren’t made ridin’—they’re made that first few seconds after they fall.”

Pete (Jake Allyn), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)
Pete (Jake Allyn), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)

Once out of prison, Pete only meets up with his younger brother Noah (cowriter Josh Plasse). Mom and dad have Virginia’s situation to worry about, not to mention persisting guilt for never having visited Pete in the slammer.

Loose cannon Pete impulsively decides to face down death, trying to do the “right” thing by donating his already-spoken-for rodeo winnings to the family cancer fund instead of paying his dealer.

Can See Most of it Coming

The proceedings are fairly predictable. The casting of Mr. Howell as Forrie’s son is a bit of a head-scratcher because Mr. Howell is 57 and Forrie is 65, and they look exactly the same age—because they pretty much are.
Al (Forrie J. Smith, L), and his son John (C. Thomas Howell), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)
Al (Forrie J. Smith, L), and his son John (C. Thomas Howell), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)

The only thing more glaringly unrealistic is that Pete, the day after getting his ribs bull-smashed, shows no sign of physical trauma whatsoever. He has a similarly implausibly swift recovery from getting brutally cattle-branded (and it’s a real bull-sized branding iron) by disgruntled, unpaid drug dealers. The thought that comes to mind is, “Those are clearly some next-level drugs he’s taking.”

Libby (country singer Laci Kaye Booth), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)
Libby (country singer Laci Kaye Booth), in "Ride." (Well Go USA)

But these are minor gripes about a well-acted directing debut. Outstanding is a haunting cameo by country singer Laci Kaye Booth as Pete’s kid brother’s girlfriend.

My main problem with the film is that, in addition to being mostly depressing, it’s also, much like “Ordinary Angels,” yet another film screaming to the rafters about the fact that hardworking, well-meaning Americans are not able to afford their hospital bills. Which makes it not really a problem with the film, but a problem with all of us Americans. What are we, stupid? We get reminded of our health care problem constantly, and yet can’t seem to overcome the lethargy to change this endlessly agonizing situation.
Promotional poster for "Ride." (Well Go USA)
Promotional poster for "Ride." (Well Go USA)
‘Ride’ Director: Jake Allyn Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Annabeth Gish, Jake Allyn, Josh Plasse, Patrick Murney, Zia Carlock, Forrie J. Smith MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes Release Date: June 14, 2024 Rating: 3 stars out of 5
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Mark Jackson is the chief film critic for The Epoch Times. In addition to the world’s number-one storytelling vehicle—film, he enjoys martial arts, weightlifting, Harley-Davidsons, vision questing, rock-climbing, qigong, oil painting, and human rights activism. Mark earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Williams College, followed by a classical theater training, and has 20 years’ experience as a New York professional actor, working in theater, commercials, and television daytime dramas. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” which is available on iTunes and Audible. Mr. Jackson is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic.