For a film that was pushed back as much as 20th Century Fox’s “Joy Ride,” the movie isn’t as horrible as one would think. In fact, if you somehow managed to avoid the film’s trailers (which give away the whole story), you might find yourself at the edge of your seat waiting to see what will develop.
“Joy Ride” focuses on two brothers, Fuller and Lewis (Steve Zahn and Paul Walker), on a cross-country road trip back home for the summer. During the long and boring drive, Fuller decides to buy a CB radio so the two can play practical jokes on nearby truckers to pass the time. What starts off as a simple game though quickly turns deadly when the duo mess with the wrong trucker… a trucker who won’t rest until he decides that the game is over.
Although “Joy Ride”‘s premise may sound a bit like MGM’s Jeepers Creepers, director John Dahl works hard to create a suspenseful thriller rather than another teen horror film. Alongside director of photography Jeffrey Jur, Dahl succeeds in making the tone and appearance of the movie seem like something more than “Jeepers Creepers 2.” Whether it’s the location, the score or the lighting, all the æsthetic elements that make a great suspense film are in tact in order to get the biggest reaction out of the audience.
Another element that helps make “Joy Ride” enjoyable is its script. The film isn’t littered with cheesy cliches like stupid characters running towards danger rather than away from it. Unlike most thrillers these days, “Joy Ride” manages to build up its suspense without ever backing down from it in a cop-out way. There is no music building up to a pizza guy at the door instead of the killer-if the scene seems suspenseful it is because something worth while is about to happen. Furthermore, in a time where Hollywood is always focused on creating the most horrifying villain visually, “Joy Ride” uses its script to build up the story’s villain rather than the studio’s costume department. This leaves the viewers-not Hollywood– to decide whether this monster is something from beyond the grave or simply just one pissed-off trucker.
Unfortunately, despite great writers, a talented cinematographer and a wonderful location scout, the film’s casting department doesn’t help Dahl’s efforts in making “Joy Ride” the intelligent noir it was on paper. While Zahn gives an outstanding performance as the older, smart-alecky brother everyone would grow up hating to love, Walker delivers a drab and emotionless performance that makes “Joy Ride” resemble a cheesy ’90s horror flick — which is something the film is definitely not. Walker, yet again, takes his place next to Freddie Prinze, Jr. as a teen heartthrob that doesn’t have much to offer Hollywood besides a pair of beautiful eyes and a dazzling white smile. While he is tolerable towards the beginning of the film (although all he is doing is recycling previous characters he has played), as the film grows tenser, Walker delivers more of a zombie-like performance. His performance during the scenes that even have our adrenaline rushing are so unnatural that one will wonder if his agent told him not to break a sweat. Sure he screams and runs around just like his co-stars, but his actions are so forced that one may start to hope “Rusty Nail” does kill him since we’d be saved from watching his performance any longer.
The only other flaw with “Joy Ride” is with the development of Leelee Sobieski’s character, Venna, who plays the childhood friend-turned-potential love interest that Lewis and Fuller pick up during their trip. Although Venna comes into the story very early on (the opening scene is her and Lewis talking over the phone about driving back home together), she doesn’t really become a crucial part of the story until halfway through the movie. By this time Lewis and Fuller have already been running for their lives (not to mention escaped death a handful of times), so audiences are more involved in the trucker saga than a three-way budding romance. Furthermore, since our protagonists are still being chased, there isn’t time for the three stars to develop any believable on-screen romantic chemistry, which makes audiences question Sobieski’s presence even more.
Despite its few flaws, “Joy Ride” does take viewers on one hell of a ride. It’s one of those rare films that manages to take an overused plot and breathe some sort of creativity into it. Dahl proves that so long as you know how to make the best of what you are given, even the most unlikely film can be enjoyable. Although “Joy Ride” may not be the perfect suspense film, given its budget and its less than A-list cast, it’s not a bad effort.