A host of clichés come to mind when you hear about a movie called 9 Rides, which is centered on an Uber cab driver’s eventful New Year’s Eve shift. There will be sex. There will be vomit. There will be pensive gazes out of the window as the driver contemplates the true meaning of life.
Prepare to be surprised, over and over again, with director Matthew A. Cherry’s sophomore effort. Interestingly enough, it’s the soundtrack of the film that offers, perhaps, the best explanation of Cherry’s vision, which stands apart from many of his contemporaries. Cherry got his start behind the camera directing R&B music videos, and he makes it overwhelmingly clear throughout 9 Rides that his lens is one concerned with intimacy and the nuances of romantic relationships—at every stage—far more so than sex, or the other titillating matter that would have made for a more outrageous (and predictable) film.
9 Rides is a story carried by the work of Dorian Missick, who plays the unnamed Uber driver the audience comes to know through his brief interactions with passengers, as well as through a series of phone calls that illustrate the highs and lows of his love life. It’s safe to say that the film simply would not have worked without a performance like Missick’s: He is one of those great actors you wish you’d see more often, a performer of such great range that the film can’t help but function as the perfect showcase for his talent. Missick plays the somewhat creepy driver, checking out his more scantily clad passengers in the rearview mirror; or he’s the angry driver who’s killing your New Year’s Eve vibe when you and your friends just want to be as carefree and annoying as possible; or he’s the driver who gets a little too personal during small talk; and he’s the black man who gets pulled over and harassed by the cop who finds it hard to believe he hasn’t been drinking. The film asks not that you fall in love with Missick’s Everyman, but insists that you consider how different he can be, from one ride to the next, and how absolutely normal—and sometimes boring—he (and his job) can also be at times.
All of this makes the twist ending that much more enjoyable, which is no small feat in a film world where twist endings can often be too predictable to entertain. What we come to discover about the driver is really a simple revelation, but it’s a surprise that works to reshape many of those previous scenes where we thought we’d gotten to know him quite well.
And it’s important that this twist works so well, because 9 Rides is not a film without its clichés. There are times where we’re asked to suspend disbelief just a bit too long, and there will be members of the audience who could do with fewer shots of Missick just cruising (but, hey, it’s the life of an Uber driver). Cherry, who also wrote the script, employs a certain looseness with the dialogue and plot, which sometimes works for greater authenticity; there’s an awkwardness between the driver and his passengers that makes perfect sense. But this same looseness occasionally works agains the film, where some scenes and interactions are allowed to flounder on, when a heavier editing hand would have been useful.
What is perhaps most exciting about Cherry’s film is how difficult it is to consider that the director was once an NFL player. He explored his relationship to football with his 2012 feature debut, The Last Fall, but his past is very much veiled in his latest project. He has been named as one director who, partly because of his athletic background, would make for an interesting alternative to Ryan Coogler (another former footballer), for the Creed sequel. 9 Rides doesn’t offer up scenes that clearly suggest Cherry has experience with the kind of high-octane drama we associate with the Rocky franchise, but it’s obvious that he’s capable of pulling out those fascinating, cultural and character-based elements that made Creed a new kind of boxing movie. Like Coogler, Cherry has a concern for those intimate relationships that define characters, and considering the importance of music and soundtrack in both films, it’s exciting to think about what Cherry would do, if given such an opportunity.
Whatever his upcoming projects turn out to be, 9 Rides is proof that Cherry is a storyteller who can do quite a bit with a modest budget (this is the first film shot on an iPhone 6s) and a simple premise. With some inspired casting choices for the supporting characters (Omar J. Dorsey gives an incredible turn as an Uber Pool customer, and Xosha Roquemore and Andra Fuller are just a couple of other memorable actors), and a love story that manages to thread itself, in some small way, through every scene, 9 Rides leaves a strong impression on the viewer and makes an important mark for a young director who is, hopefully, just getting started.
Director: Matthew A. Cherry
Writers: Matthew A. Cherry
Starring: Dorian Missick, Omar J. Dorsey, Robinne Lee
Release Date: March 11, 2016
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor and a film critic at Paste, and a writer for Salon and Heart&Soul. This New York-based freelancer probably has more babies than you, but that’s okay; you can still be friends. She welcomes almost all follows on Twitter.