Ridley graduated from Homestead High School in Mequon, Wisconsin in 1982. He enrolled in Indiana University but transferred to New York University. Ridley is Christian.
After both writing and directing his film debut, the 1997 crime thriller Cold Around the Heart, he and Oliver Stone co-adapted Ridley's first novel, Stray Dogs (still unpublished when Stone bought the rights) into the 1997 Stone-directed film U Turn, which was released slightly earlier than Cold Around the Heart. Ridley went on to write the novels Love Is a Racket and Everybody Smokes in Hell. His novel Spoils of War was adapted into the 1999 David O. Russell-directed Three Kings. Ridley's original script was rewritten by Russell and Ridley, with Ridley receiving a "story by" credit negotiated among himself, Russell, and the releasing studio, Warner Bros. Ridley then became a Writer and a supervising Producer on the NBC crime drama Third Watch. His other novels are The Drift, Those Who Walk in Darkness, and A Conversation with the Mann. He also wrote the graphic novel The American Way.
As of April 2015, he was developing an ABC television series involving an existing Marvel Comics character.