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Joy Ride

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Joy Ride

Starring: Steve Zahn, Paul Walker
Director: John Dahl
Rated: R
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: October 2001
Genres: Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Matthew Kimbrough, Leelee Sobieski, Rachel Singer

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When I was in college in the days before the Internet became a favorite way to fool people, our idea of freshman fun was to look up the people in town named Frank James. We'd call every one of them and say, "Hello, Frank? This is Jesse. We ride tonight!" I guess we thought we were original, that no one else thought of doing this--which explains why we got back nothing but yawns from our targets. Nowadays, the ante has been upped. In "Joy Ride," for example, a 19-year-old college kid and his older brother have fun with a vintage CB radio in a 1971 car newly owned by one of them. The idea for a prank comes from the shrivelled brain of Fuller Thomas (Steve Zahn), who has just been bailed out of jail for a drunk-and-disorderly charge by his more sensible and less daring brother, Lewis Thomas (Paul Walker). Lewis hooks up on the radio with a guy whose CB name is Rusty Nail (uncredited in the cast because he is never seen) and, pretending that he's a hot babe name Candy Cane offers to meet the truck driver in a specific motel. "Bring a bottle of pink champagne." Apparently when the driver, whose physical charm can be only imagined by the audience in the theaters seats, discovers that this fictitious Candy Cane is a big, grouchy guy, he decides he doesn't like being played around with and resorts extreme measures.

"Joy Ride" is directed by John Dahl, whose past contributions have included a top-grade B movie called "Red Rock West," about an unemployed guy played by Nicolas Cage who is mistaken for a contract killer and featuring Dennis Hopper in the role of a psycho who is the real hit man, "Lyle, from Dallas." Even better is Dahl's "The Last Seduction," with Linda Fiorentino as a sexy but pathological woman who dumps her husband, takes his drug-deal cash, and makes a local upstate guy her patsy. When put side by side with those beauties, "Joy Ride" is Dahl-disappointing, pretty conventional even if the villain is a truck rather than a human being, with the evil truck as the only thing this movie has in common with the vastly superior thriller, "Breakdown." Nor can Steve Zahn, admittedly a funny funny guy, or Paul Walker, perhaps the handsomest actor of his generation, match in acting ability Dahl favorites like Fiorentino, J.T. Walsh or Bill Pullman.

The comic antics come from Steve Zahn, who metamorphizes from a hell-raising good-time guy to one scared pup while the seriousness (and stick-like acting) comes from Walker, who as a guy completing freshman year in college is determined to change his platonic relationship with Venna (Leelee Sobieski) into something spicier. He leads her instead into the scariest adventure of her life as she is set up for cannon fodder by a truck driver (or rather by a truck--which is the only villain we can see), hoping to be rescued by her two companions in their vintage car with a vintage CB radio.

Dahl is better at staging a few scares than in making much out of Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams' script. The highway used in Northern Nevada to stand in for Laramie, Wyoming and environs is a scary place of seedy, anonymous motels made especially hair-raising when photographed during a dark and stormy night.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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