A very young (and very skinny) Jack Nicholson is the sneering villain of this rudimentary juvenile delinquency film, and his presence is the primary reason The Wild Ride is remembered today. Not that Nicholson exactly lights up the screen when he appears; he's as green as the rest of the cast, but he stands out thanks to some eccentric touches that foreshadow his future stardom. Nicholson plays the arrogant gang leader Johnny Varron as a laid-back California dude rather than a hot-headed hooligan, keeping his cool even when losing his temper. It's an interesting performance, but not enough to recommend on its own. The Wild Ride tells a common enough story about forbidden love and its tragic results, and only a brief running time saves the picture from total dullsville. The pack of miscreant auto enthusiasts that Johnny Varron presides over isn't terribly threatening. They're bored, spoiled white kids in that purgatory between high school and adulthood, cruising from one beach to another to drink beer, dance and tinker with engines. Their most dangerous quality is recklessness, whether playing chicken with trucks on the road or simply endorsing their leader's deadly antics behind the wheel. The second act of the film is stacked with stock drag-racing footage that will only appeal to the sturdiest fans of greasy hotrodder epics, who might dig The Wild Ride for its hip slang, vintage cars, and jazzy score, regardless of Nicholson's presence. Mainstream movie buffs expecting another Oscar-caliber performance will only find a young, hungry actor making his way toward better things.
by Fred Beldin review