Joy Ride (2001) / Thriller-Horror
MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, Leelee Sobieski, Jessica Bowman, Stuart Stone, Ted Levine (voice)
Director: John Dahl
Screenplay: Clay Tarver, J.J. Abrams
I am a little surprised that some of the professional critics give high marks to this slick trash. Since I like to review movies, instead of giving a good director credit no matter what schlock he produces, I will stand on the other side of the fence on this one. The director in question is John Dahl, a man who has seemingly done no wrong until this flick. His filmography includes such solid entertainment as the thrillers Kill Me Again and The Last Seduction, plus his biggest hit, Rounders. There isn't any question here about Dahl's ability, since Joy Ride could have easily been far worse than it is. The real question is why he would make a movie at all out of Clay Tarver and Jeffrey Abrams' script to begin with.
Pure popcorn fluff can usually be explained in one sentence: A college student (Walker, The Fast and the Furious) and his misfit brother (Zahn, Forces of Nature) on a cross-country trip to visit a friend (Sobieski, The Glass House) play a CB radio prank on a lonely truck driver who proceeds to make their lives a living hell as payback.
That's it? Yep, that's it. Luckily, Joy Ride isn't very long, and to be honest, it is well-made enough in the suspense department to hold one's interest even when it's blatantly bad. The problem with Joy Ride isn't that it's made bad, it's just that it IS bad. There are some decent moments where it probably could have been very scary if we were allowed to care about the characters, but they are not well developed, and what's worse, they are pretty annoying.
There may be a good deal of suspense, but there is not a good deal of suspension of disbelief. From having to believe Walker's voice sounded remotely female to the trucker's omniscient deductions regarding the boys' whereabouts and past histories, there is not a whole lot of sense to be found anywhere within the confines of the narrative. Joy Ride merely exists to provide suspense and titillate, having nothing to say and nowhere else to go. As a pure diversion, you could do worse, but there definitely will be more joy felt in the ride home from the theater than there is in watching the one onscreen.
©2001 Vince Leo