Film: Joy Ride

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Joy Ride

Director: John Dahl
Distributor: 20th Century Fox

It’s all fun and games whene two brothers (Paul Walker and Steve Zahn) take off cross-country to bring home a pretty college friend (Leelee Sobieski). But the jokes end when a prank backfires and they find themselves stalked by a vengeful trucker who won’t give up his relentless chase until somebody pays with their life.


Joy Ride follows the familiar conventions of road-movie thrillers with enough vitality to make everything old seem new again. A confirmed master of neo-noir suspense, director John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction) sets a consistent tone of humor and horror as Lewis (Paul Walker) and his black-sheep brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) drive from Salt Lake City to pick up Lewis’s friend Venna (Leelee Sobieski) in Boulder, Colorado. En route, they play a practical joke via CB radio, inviting vengeful terror as an unseen trucker (voiced with exquisite menace by Silence of the Lambs villain Ted Levine) pursues them with relentless, homicidal aggression. Inevitable comparisons to Steven Spielberg’s Duel fail to appreciate Dahl’s unique talent for energizing B-movie formulas while injecting his own brand of rib-tickling excitement. While Zahn deserves extra credit in his first top-billed role, Joy Ride wins a badge of honor for everyone involved. —Jeff Shannon

Barnes and Noble

A B-movie thriller executed with zest and precision, Joy Ride is like an MTV Road Rules episode gone horribly awry. The story follows two brothers—dutiful Lewis (Paul Walker) and former jailbird Fuller (Steve Zahn)—who make the mistake of taking an innocent prank too far while on a freewheeling cross-country drive. This lands them in the crosshairs of a mysterious truck driver (an uncredited Ted Levine), known only to the brothers as a throaty, disembodied voice on their CB radio (his handle: “Rusty Nail”). The inexplicably brutal trucker makes the siblings, and Lewis’s friend Venna (Leelee Sobieski), pawns in a deadly chess game. In a movie that’s light on character development and heavy on tension, Zahn’s characterization drives the movie with a surfeit of mischief and charm. Comparisons to Steven Spielberg’s paranoia road-rage classic Duel are inevitable, but director John Dahl (Rounders) gives this fine-tuned muscle car of a movie a fresh look of its own. He knows well that the nail-biting cat-and-mouse games of Clay Tarver and J. J. Abrams’s script keep the story in overdrive, making for a taut genre trip sure to remind you that danger is often closer than it appears to be. The DVD edition features the director and writers, as well as Zahn and Sobieski, plus alternate endings and a deleted scene. Stuart Gazzo

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