Budgeted at around $1.5 million, Jan Sverak’s 1994 feature “Accumulator 1” was one of the most expensive productions ever undertaken by the Czech film industry. Rather than sit by idly for his next major project to be scripted, the eclectic young director went to the opposite extreme with “The Ride,” a $30,000 road movie shot in 20 days. Though it’s built on a naggingly thin idea and a lot of shrewd padding, this resourceful operation has enough playful, teasing, free-spirited appeal to qualify for fest lineups.
Uninspired by their lives, two thirtysomething friends, Radek and Frank (Radek Pastrnak, Jakub Spalek), buy a cheap car and head out of Prague to spend summer touring the Czech countryside. They pick up Anne (Anna Geislerova), an initially forlorn, subsequently strong-willed waif who’s run out on her aggressively possessive boyfriend.
Remainder of the action is basically a sexual cat-and-mouse game. Radek’s efforts to come on to Anne meet either indifference, vague encouragement or humiliating rejection, which ultimately prompts him to react with uncharacteristic decisiveness, quite brutally turning the tables on her game-playing. Alternately, her moves toward Frank come up against apparent imperviousness.
While the sexual politics of the triangle are undeniably intriguing, they are also dubious. Anne emerges as little more than a capricious puppeteer, stringing the two men along while her menacingly determined ex sticks to their tail, waiting to reclaim her. Her fate also feels like a moral judgment.
The well-played bond between the two men is better developed. Bored with his marriage, Frank appears to be floundering in lieu of an alternative, his kinship with Radek at times approaching an almost romantic attachment.
Sverak sustains an engaging tempo throughout the joyride, though his propensity for slapping in traveling montages accompanied by Czech pop songs is way overindulged. Many of the tunes are written by cast member Pastrnak, an established musician in his first acting turn.
Regular cinematographer F.A. Brabec (Sverak’s partner in their Luxor production company, which splits its activity between features and commercials) gives a crisp, vigorous look to the attractive rural settings.