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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 Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

Halloween is coming up and if you're in the mood for an old fashioned, Grade B thriller, "Joy Ride" may be right up your alley. The production makes some mistakes, but manages to establish and maintain a palpable sense of menace by tapping into areas of primal fear. You know that vague discomfort you feel while driving in the middle of nowhere late at night? "Joy Ride" plops you into that setting, then ups the fear factor by adding an anonymous figure, one that cannot be reasoned with, whose only goal is to get his hands on you.

Here's the set-up. Lewis (Paul Walker) is a college student who dreams of turning his relationship with Venna (Leelee Sobieski) from platonic to romantic. To that end, he agrees to pick her up from her school in a different city, looking forward to a road trip with the girl of his dreams. Just as he is leaving, he learns that his older brother, Fuller (Steve Zahn), is in jail. Despite being leery over his seemingly incorrigible sibling, Lewis heads to the pokey and picks him up.

While on the road to Venna-land, Fuller buys a cheap used CB radio, installs it in the car and starts fiddling with the old machine ("This is like a prehistoric Internet!" he chirps happily). Before long, he gets Lewis to join in the fun, adopting a female voice and using the name Candy Kane to stir up nearby truckers. In short order, a gravel-voiced driver using the handle Rusty Nail starts chatting with Ms. Kane.

The boys carry the prank further, luring Rusty Nail to a local motel for a rendezvous with the fictitious young lovely, while they press their ears to the wall of a neighboring room to listen to the reaction. But the practical joke explodes and the boys find themselves pursued across the dark rural highways by a killer bent on vengeance. When they pick up Venna, things get even worse - Rusty Nail decides that, in lieu of Candy Kane, Venna will do.

The actors make fine surrogates for the viewer. Paul Walker is the bland, easily influenced everyman, Leelee Sobieski stays suitably wide-eyed as a bright kid thrust into an insane situation and Steve Zahn adds texture as the comic relief who watches in horror as his little joke turns lethal.

Rusty Nail is a great villain. We've all heard voices like his calling right-wing chat shows late at night, talking conspiracies and Armageddon. Wisely, the filmmakers never show us his face. Foolishly, they do show the gruesome results of his attacks - in general, a description of something horrible is far more chilling than a picture. Despite an over-reliance on stunt driving late in the proceedings, "Joy Ride" works because we know that there really are crazy people out there, and that on any given night we could become the target of one of them.

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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