Joy Ride (United States, 2001)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Looking for a thriller that throws intelligence out the window in favor of mindless entertainment? John Dahl's Joy Ride is what you're in search of. The film, which runs just a little over 90 minutes and is continually well paced, is fast, furious, and requires very little in the way of thought or rumination to "get" it. It's also completely preposterous, so more than a little suspension of disbelief is necessary to appreciate what it has to offer. This is one movie where mindset is important. You have to be looking for an escapist experience that relies strongly on an adrenaline rush.

Joy Ride starts out innocently enough, with two brothers, Lewis (Paul Walker) and Fuller (Steve Zahn), on a cross-country road trip. Lewis, a college student on summer break, is headed to Denver to pick up his dream girl, Venna (Leelee Sobieski), to give her a ride back to New Jersey. Fuller, whom Lewis bails out of jail in Salt Lake City, is along for the ride. One of their first acts of brotherly bonding is to play a practical joke on "Rusty Nail" - the handle of a trucker they hear on the CB radio. Lewis pretends to be a woman and lures the lonely man to a motel for a rendezvous. But the practical joke turns bloody - the man staying in the room number given by Lewis is murdered, and it isn't long before the two young men find themselves being pursued, threatened, and taunted by a faceless trucker. And, although they think it's over once they reach Denver and pick up Venna, it's really just beginning.

John Dahl has already proven he's very much at home working with movies that combine suspense with dashes of macabre humor (see Red Rock West and The Last Seduction for examples), and Joy Ride fits right in. Because the story centers around a relentless truck driver, comparisons have been made to Steven Spielberg's early feature, Duel, but the movies are different in tone and intent. Duel is much more of a psychological thriller while Joy Ride is far less sophisticated and not as concerned with mind games.

The cast is well chosen. Paul Walker plays Lewis straight - a nice, clean cut guy we can all relate to. Sure, the character does something stupid, but we forgive him much more quickly than Rusty Nail does, because he's such a nice boy. Zahn provides most of the comic relief, although he shows, as he has done before, that he's capable of playing material straight. Leelee Sobieski displays her effortless charm and provides a small dosage of sex appeal. Finally, the villain, Rusty Nail, is never seen - he's just a voice on the CB and an ominous, shadowy presence sitting behind the wheel of a truck.

Joy Ride is diverting as long as you don't expect more from it than it promises to deliver. This is essentially a popcorn movie put together by a director who knows how to generate suspense and build tension. And that's what this is all about. Any dramatic moments are simply there to give the audience a breather between action sequences. One other recommendation: avoid the trailer at all costs. Not only does it give away almost every single one of Joy Ride's surprises, but it telegraphs the ending. If you follow that advice, this movie will deliver the kind of experience that its title promises.

Joy Ride (United States, 2001)

Director: John Dahl
Cast: Steve Zahn, Adam Walker, Leelee Sobieski
Screenplay: Clay Tarver, J.J. Abrams
Cinematography: Jeffrey Jur
Music: Marco Beltrami
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2001-10-05
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1