‘Limo Ride’ Hilariously Proves That Truth is Wilder Than Fiction

By  · Published on March 31st, 2014

Atlanta Film Festival

We’ve all got that one crazy story that happened to us, that one we love to tell at parties or at the bar or as an inappropriate best man speech, but how many of these stories would make a good movie? Some of you might say yours would because it’s so unbelievable, more than any movie you’ve seen, but there’s a lot more to a comedy like The Hangover or Superbad or Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle than the strange and madcap adventure at the center of the plot. The situations have to be crafted intently for humor and drama and character, whereas true events might be more outrageous but probably less funny or affecting as far as a broad audience is concerned. And you always have to figure that if your story is really that unbelievable, then it’s not going to work for all the viewers who, understandably, aren’t going to believe it.

Limo Ride, which had its world premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival last night, could give false hope to a lot of people that their own outlandish shenanigans and incidents are worthy movie fodder. Especially if there’s any chance of topping it. The film depicts the true story of a bunch of guys, and one girl, who took a limousine to the annual Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day in Pensacola, Florida, drank a lot, did a good amount of drugs, dove into the freezing Gulf of Mexico waters, got into some bar fights and then headed home, only to be taken off course, out to the middle of nowhere and left for dead by their driver. It’s one of the most absurdly debaucherous and altogether preposterous tales you’ll ever hear, and it must have all really happened because the film has ten of the people involved corroborating on the whole thing in a kind of ensemble voiceover narration.

They don’t seem to agree on everything – or much at all, really – or they at least don’t each remember every detail the same way. At one point we hear them each separately describe how cold it was when they were ditched on a dirt road in the dark, few of them dressed warm enough for a January night on the Panhandle. Not two of them names the same temperature. Which makes sense, because who there would be checking a thermometer, but they’re way off from each other. There’s constant disagreement about where certain things happened, and one of the guys says he doesn’t even believe all of this happened on New Year’s Day. Apparently, from what we learned during the Q&A after the movie, nobody even knows what year the story took place (though they’re pretty sure it was pre-9/11). This isn’t too much of a surprise when you hear and see how much intoxicants are imbibed along the way. It’s remarkable that they can recall as much as they do.

Eventually, even while the night’s events escalate in terms of how funny and frightening and incredibly insane they are, it’s clear this isn’t a movie necessarily about this particular story. It’s about stories like this in general and how they’re told, often with spots in the timeline as well as in logic as they’re embellished for exaggeration or just to make up for foggy memory. The narration consists of audio recordings of interviews conducted at the beginning of the film’s production, at least one of the voices coming through on speakerphone, and it’s a hodgepodge that itself has holes in clarity – I don’t know if it was just where I was sitting during the screening but I missed chunks of what was said here and there, and that was actually perfect, akin to how I might have heard the tale at a loud bar or party.

Of course, Limo Ride isn’t just an audio documentary of a bunch of buddies giving an oral history of their wildest night out (or simply one of them, allegedly). It’s a movie, and the visuals are full-on reenactment of the tale their telling. It’s fairly straightforward in that sense, though there are some reworked scenes for when the details are up for debate. No dialogue is spoken, except in the form of any of the narrators paraphrasing something, to which the appropriate actor mouths those words. If so much dramatization sounds dull and tiresome, the truth is that it initially seems like it will be, too. But as the events get crazier, there’s plenty to enjoy on screen. There’s a lot of nudity (male and female) and violence, some instances that would be super creepy or downright terrifying if they weren’t so odd and weren’t discussed with such revelry – these are events that must have been at times really scary in the moment but in hindsight are easily laughed about because, I guess, at least nobody died. And Richard Tyson is in it, the only recognizable face as far as I can say, and he plays a role that quite wonderfully took me back to his character in Three O’Clock High.

Directors Gideon C. Kennedy and Marcus Rosentrater deliver a riotously entertaining movie for something based on a bunch of guys talking about something that happened a long time ago and that means very little to anyone outside of that group. It has a high potential to become a cult nonfiction film, joining such favorites as American Movie, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Heavy Metal Parking Lot, The King of Kong and maybe some that don’t also feature long-haired characters (there’s a duo in Limo Ride that seem so familiar if you’ve seen the first two of those films). And if anyone reading this is involved with Fantastic Fest, this needs to fill one of those rare doc spots on the program this fall. It is hilarious, shocking, weird and just unpolished enough to really require that kind of audience passionate about amazing stories to be forgiving of any flaws it might have. Plus, the next time I see it I’d love to be drinking along with the guys on screen. But maybe not as much as them.

Check out the trailer for Limo Ride, which hopefully at least hits some other festivals soon:

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.