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Review by Harvey Karten
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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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