Joy Ride

Taking its cues from the classic 1971 Steven Spielberg movie Duel, Joy Ride follows the frantic attempts of some normal people trying to avoid a crazy trucker. However, like many other horror/suspense movies today, Joy Ride starts promisingly well, then botches the story until the end. Lewis Thomas (Paul Walker, The Fast and the Furious, The Skulls) is on his way to pick up his friend (and hopefully girlfriend) Venna Wilcox (Leelee Sobieski, The Glass House, My First Mister). On the way, he is giving his down-on-his-luck brother Fuller (Steve Zahn, Dr. Dolittle 2, Saving Silverman) a ride. Armed with a CB radio, these two young men do what any bored guys their age would; they start playing with the radio. They listen in on conversations, and Fuller convinces Lewis to play a joke and pretend he is a woman. With the handle "Candy Cane," Lewis engages a "Rusty Nail," in conversation, and agrees to meet the unknown trucker later that night in a motel room.

Lewis and Fuller go to the motel and spend the night in the next room. Late that night, they hear Rusty Nail approach, then scuffle with the next-door occupant. The next morning, they discover that their neighbor was the victim of homicide. There's a wonderfully minimalistic scene where Zahn and Walker are listening to the violence next door. They are standing quietly against the wall, and the camera slowly zooms in on a portrait. Director John Dahl (Striking Back, Rounders) shows no violence on screen, all of it is implied. The only thing on screen is a serene outdoor landscape, illuminated by flashes of actual lightning and the muffled cries of Rusty Nails' victim. Realizing he was the victim of a practical joke, Rusty Nail begins following the brothers. Up to this point, Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams' (Armageddon, Gone Fishin') script is highly suspenseful. Lewis and Fuller are scared out of their minds, running from someone who seems to know everything about them. Dahl viciously interrupts scenes of relative serenity with outbursts of violence.

Things begin falling apart with the appearance of Venna. Not because of her character or Sobieski's performance, but because Dahl changes the Rusty Nail character from menacing into comical. In essence, he becomes God. He now knows everything about Lewis, Fuller, and Venna. He is able to follow them, kidnap their friends, watch them constantly, and plant things in their car while staying out of sight with a huge truck. Any shred of realism disappears as the omniscient Rusty Nail seemingly predicts all of Lewis and Fuller's actions, and always manages to stay a couple steps ahead of them. Joy Ride skirts B-movie territory, with a truck chasing the three young people. It is a monster movie where the monster is a truck (maybe a monster truck? maybe not). Zahn, Walker, and Sobieski have the unenviable task of acting against an unknown. So they are more reacting than acting. Sadly, their opponent has more charisma than they do. The characters display the same lack of common sense present in any movie of this genre, and it is old and tiring.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 36 minutes, Rated R for violence/terror and language.

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