A review of  Joy Ride” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language, violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

 

Fans of Stephen Spielberg’s early outing, “Duel”, will never forget the fear intrinsic in a faceless trucker terrorizing a lone driver with his menacing sixteen-wheeler.  In an homage to that suspenseful 1971 TV classic, director John Dahl (“The Last Seduction”) pits man against big rig in a noir-ish white-knuckler that guarantees thrills and chills.

Clearly our clueless heroes haven’t seen a late-night rerun of “Duel”, nor are they familiar with any of a number of pranks-from-hell B-movies, such as William Castle’s “I Saw What You Did”.  If better informed, perhaps they wouldn’t be so cavalier about ruthlessly toying with the lonesome driver of five tons of steel.

Lewis Thomas (Paul Walker – hubba hubba) appears to be a smart guy.  He’s just finished his freshman year at UC Berkeley, and is set to fly home to the east coast for summer vacation.  A plaintive call from the newly-single girl of his dreams (Leelee Sobieski as Venna) is all it takes to turns a cross-country flight into a potentially romantic road trip.  Lewis agrees to fetch Venna from her Colorado college, but an attack of the guilts derails his starry-eyed plans. Lewis reluctantly makes a short stop in Salt Lake City to bail his ne’er-do-well brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) out of  jail – promising mom to get him home in one piece.

Two’s company and three’s a crowd, especially when the odd man out is wacky smartass Fuller.  Not content to kick back and enjoy the scenery, Fuller buys a beat-up CB radio and encourages Lewis to play a practical joke on the airwaves by imitating a pretty-young-thang.  It starts innocently enough – a little verbal flirtation with a lonely trucker. It becomes anything but when the brothers take it a step too far – by arranging a phony rendezvous at a local motel.

Hell hath no fury as a trucker scorned.  Exposed as pranksters, the trio find themselves the target of the malicious hauler, known only by the CB handle of Rusty Nail.  The prize isn’t ownership of the road, but something far more valuable – their lives.

Intriguing casting gives a fresh face to what is ultimately a conventional horror story.  Walker, he of the sexy blue peepers and chiseled cheekbones, plays the responsible straight man to Zahn’s hilarious loser.  Zahn’s excellent comic timing goes a long way towards easing the mounting tension and lending the story a tongue-in-cheek quality.  Climax is unfortunately silly, but the Hitchockian score and eerie title sequence raise the bar above the standard chase thriller.  The film as a whole is infused with Dahl’s terrific sense of the macabre, which means it’s definitely worth your look-see.