Marijuana smuggling in the '70s is ripe for movie adaptations. Shana Betz's Free Ride tells the director's true story of growing up with her mother Christina Richmond, who helped ferry tons of pot into Florida.
In the movie, Shana is Shell (Ava Acres), the youngest daughter of Christina (Anna Paquin). Shell's older sister, MJ (Liana Liberato), takes the brunt of her mother's lifestyle - which includes constant boat trips, the occasional cocaine party and encounters with unsavory types.
It all begins in 1977 when Christina is lured from Ohio back to her native Florida by fellow stripper, Sandy (Sons of Anarchy and The Sopranos' Drea de Matteo), with the offer of a job cleaning houses. It turns out this is a cover for accepting small deliveries of cannabis. She graduates to bigger jobs, renting boats that rendezvous with other vessels in international waters and transfer bales of weed.
They both work with Ray (Cam Gigandet), a sandy-haired operator who doesn't really look the part. Except for halter tops, constant cigarette smoking and vintage cars, Free Ride lacks a distinctly '70s feel.
As the movie goes on, there's a sense of dread and foreboding, that something bad's going to happen, and of course it does, shattering Christina's new world of constant cash and free spending.
Paquin, best known for her breakout groupie role in Almost Famous in 2000 and a steady gig on True Blood, plays Christina with aplomb. She's a fairly ordinary girl who goes with the flow and handles whatever comes her way relatively well, never freaking out. Christina's biggest problem, aside from being part of a criminal enterprise, is the teenage MJ (for Mary Jane), who's having a hard time with her new life and surroundings.
Despite voluminous amounts of packaged marijuana, never once is a bale slit open and sampled. It's all about business, not the imported weed (most likely from Colombia). Like Billy Corben's documentary Square Grouper, Free Ride portrays Florida during the good-old, heady smuggling days. However, in this case, it tore Betz's family apart.