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Movie Reviews

Joy Ride  
Fuller (Steve Zahn)
Lewis (Paul Walker)
Venna (Leelee Sobieski)
Charlotte (Jessica Bowman)
Directed by John Dahl
Written by Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams

Running Time: 96 minutes
Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Joy Ride is a road thriller that works better with tension and comedy than horror elements. Thought I found this film to be modest, mostly because of its last twenty minutes, it did have a nice blend of comedy and thrills.

The film opens with a typical college student, Lewis (Walker), leaving Berkeley to go home for the semester break. When we first meet Lewis, we learn of his real feelings for his old home town friend Venna (Sobieski), who goes to school in Colorado. The opening sequence has Lewis buying a car and heading to Colorado on his way home to give Venna a ride. He ultimately plans to tell her of his feelings on the long road trip home. However, Lewis has to make a detour in Utah, to bail his trouble-bound brother, Fuller (Zahn), out of jail for drunkenness. Learning of his plan and knowing Fuller’s past, Lewis just wants to drop his brother off somewhere along the way to Colorado. On the other hand, Fuller insists on going to Colorado even though Lewis admits that he and Venna are nothing more than friends. Along the way, Fuller picks up a CB radio and begins having fun with it.

The film really gets going when Fuller talks Lewis into imitating a woman’s voice over the CB named Candy Cane and setting up a meeting with a lonely trucker named Rusty Nail. Lewis tells the trucker to meet Candy Cane in room 17 of a small town motel, while he and Fuller listen in from room 18. The terror then strikes as the guest in room 17 is left for dead and the police begin questioning Lewis and Fuller. As the two try to regroup and head to Boulder, they realize that Rusty Nail is following, watching and terrorizing them. The film turns into a thrill ride as the two do get to Venna, in which she is thrust into Rusty Nail’s game as well.

The overall point of this film besides its thrills is to make you think before you do onto others. Lewis and Fuller picked on the wrong guy and their world gets turned into hell because of their actions. Joy Ride is a better film than a recent slasher/horror film called Valentine (2001), in which both share the same theme. In Valentine, the nerdy, unpopular guy from comes back some years later to terrorize the girls that made fun of him in middle school. Another film example is the classic horror Carrie (1976).

Though I thought the theme of this film worked, I did have some problems with the script by Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams. The film had a nice pace and blended well with the action/suspense/comedy factors, but the last twenty minutes of the film really brought it down in my opinion. I understand its climatic setting to be unique to the story and tension, but it is nearly predictable and bland. I can’t really say too much about the ending, because I don’t want to ruin it for you.

The characters themselves I found had more originality and depth than most thriller/horror films, but there isn’t much closure to the questions of their relationships by the end of the film. I also had some real questions to some of Fuller’s actions in the second act.

The DVD version of Joy Ride answers some of these questions that I had. In the special features section of the DVD there are two alternate endings, in which one shows the some closure on the relationships. However, I found that the different endings were worse than the one that director John Dahl stuck with. Dahl explains through his commentary of why the alternate endings wouldn’t work, and I do agree with his comments that the different endings would leave the film more dry and unbelievable.

John Dahl is a director whose work I have liked in the past. His previous credits include Red Rock West (1993), The Last Seduction (1994), and Rounders (1998). He does keep the suspense and action sequences in Joy Ride elaborative. Thorough the commentary on the DVD, Dahl’s comments seemed like he was having problems with the end of the script, which is why he shot three different versions. I can not explain too much, but the ending chosen almost seems like a cop-out.

Dahl does do a good job of hiding his villain, Rusty Nail, in which most of the film he is a creepy voice on the CB. Dahl uses extreme close-ups on the CB along with the sound wave colors rising each time Rusty Nail’s voice comes on. Speaking of colors, I believe Dahl’s use of red from the brake lights on the characters in the “open the trunk” scene was the best visual shot of the film. It brought in the psychological meaning of the color while splashing it on the characters and also symbolizing the “red” of a stop light with being a road thriller.

As for the cast, Steve Zahn’s quirky mannerisms contribute his likeable performance as he overshadows Walker and Sobieski. Zahn is just absolutely goofy with his humor and one can’t help but like him. Paul Walker is an actor that I really have never cared much for, but he is better in this film than his previous ones. I have had mixed opinions about Sobieski, but in time I believe she will be a star in Hollywood.

Joy Ride is a thriller that conveys the theme of treat people as you would want to be treated, and don’t pull laughs on people that you don’t know. Though I had many problems with the film, it is better than most of the thrillers that have come out recently on DVD and video (ex. Don’t Say a Word (2001)). I can’t help but refer this film in similarity to Steven Spielberg’s classic Duel (1971). Joy Ride is not nearly the same story line, but both have some of the same elements. However, Duel is all thrills, and Joy Ride has an ample amount of humor in it, especially from Steve Zahn.

Report Card Grade: C

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