The new “Joy Ride” offers a modern-comedy bingo card with pretty much all the squares checked: mismatched besties, an oddball crashing a group outing, said outing going wildly off the rails, freewheeling sex, projectile vomiting, unhinged debauchery involving booze and drugs, and a crucial plot point hinging on an intimate body part.
This film, directed by the “Crazy Rich Asians” co-writer Adele Lim, may not reinvent the raunch-com wheel (see: “The Hangover,” “Girls Trip,” “Bridesmaids”), but it does change who’s driving the car. And, most importantly, it is really, really funny.
“Joy Ride” processes all of its familiar ingredients into a sustained, sometimes near-berserk, barrage of jokes, interspersed with epic set pieces. That is, up until the two-thirds mark, when the movie paints itself into a corner and presses the “earnest sentimentality” eject button before managing a narrow escape. It’s a small price to pay for the inspired pandemonium that precedes.
The mismatched friends here are Audrey (the brilliant Ashley Park, from “Emily in Paris”) and Lolo (a deliciously acerbic Sherry Cola), who have been best friends since childhood, when they bonded over being the only two Asian girls in their Pacific Northwest town.
Audrey, who was adopted from China by a white couple, grows up to become a prim, career-obsessed lawyer. She is sent to Beijing to close a deal, with a promotion hanging on her success. Since her Mandarin is practically nonexistent, she brings along the irrepressible Lolo. Completing the comic superteam are Lolo’s socially awkward cousin, Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), whose superpower is extensive K-pop knowledge, and Audrey’s college roommate Kat (Stephanie Hsu, from “Everything Everywhere All at Once”), now a screen star in China and engaged to her very hunky and very Christian co-star (Desmond Chiam).
Eventually, Audrey decides to find her birth mother, and the four women set off on an odyssey that immediately devolves into a series of mishaps. The shenanigans come at breakneck speed, and peak with a repurposing of the Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion hit “WAP” that could become a late-night-karaoke staple in its own right.
The film is especially sharp around identity and assimilation, and the screenwriters Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao have fun with the expectations and stereotypes placed on Asians and Asian Americans — including those that are self-imposed. The seams show only toward the end, when the film’s pace slackens, but even then, the cast’s chemistry and flawless timing hold steady.
As the straight arrow protagonist, Park expertly pulls off a trick similar to Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids”: Her character serves as the narrative engine, while also setting up comedy opportunities for the others.
If there is any justice, Park will soon be a marquee name. But this applies to all of the central quartet, who so effectively take advantage of the movie’s many opportunities to shine. With “Joy Ride,” summer has truly arrived.
Rated R for exuberant sexuality, bilingual foul language, brief nudity and liberal use of drugs and booze. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters.