Steve Zahn was perfect in Suburbia. He’s just right as the scene-stealing supporting player with a charming, mischievous personality. Even in Happy, Texas (in which he got top billing) he stepped back from the leading straight-man role to liven things up as the second banana.
Again Zahn plays a supporting part, but this time he doesn’t get to clown around. He has to act, and it isn’t funny.
R for violence
Lewis (Paul Walker, fresh off The Fast and the Furious) is flying back east and the girl he’s always loved (Leelee Sobieski) is bummed. She’s at the University of Colorado (sorry CU-philes, a stunt college is used instead), and she’s just been dumped, anxious for a friendly shoulder to cry on. Lewis makes a sudden change of plans. He cashes in his ticket and buys an old car for a trip that will just happen to take him through Boulder and into the arms of Venna (Sobieski).
Before Lewis heads out, he learns his brother is being released from jail in Salt Lake City. He decides to stop in Utah before continuing on to Boulder. Fuller (Zahn) has no reason to stay in Salt Lake City, so he invites himself along on the road trip. Fuller buys them a CB radio because it’s cheaper than a radar detector.
The boys start playing pranks with the CB, and one of their jokes ends up with the death of an innocent man. The trucker who is the butt of their joke turns the tables on them, forcing Lewis and Fuller into desperation, humiliation, and fear.
Although there is slightly more to the plot, I won’t reveal it, because this much is already given away in the trailer.
Giving it Away
The biggest problem with Joy Ride, the problem I can’t seem to forgive, is that the trailer gives away entirely too much. A better editor could have cut together something that showed the emotion of the movie without telling the whole story.
As a moviegoer, I want to be teased and titillated by a trailer. I want to see the promise of adventure. I don’t want to see a three minute version of a movie. Even if the outcome is certain (like in Titanic), or even if a movie is completely predictable (like this week’s Serendipity), I want to have the illusion of suspense. I certainly don’t want to see a movie that’s been given away by the marketing campaign.
I should concede that there are in fact a few surprises — not surprises exactly, but deviations from the previews. Nevertheless, the trailer tells you everything you need to know about the movie except why you’d want to see the full-length feature.
Admittedly, a movie can be good, bad, or lousy regardless of how it’s advertised. Joy Ride isn’t as bad as the previews make it out to be. Then again, the previews make it look like a pretty lousy film. By comparison, Joy Ride is merely bad. If it were a b-movie sleeper from a first-time director, it might even pass for good.
Joy Ride is a horror film, not a thriller. And for a cheesy b-movie horror film, it’s actually pretty respectable. The sense of menace is palpable, the faceless evil handled with skill. Director John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction, Rounders) presents the villain in exactly the right vein.
Still, Zahn’s talents are put to better use in comedies. He’s funny, but this horror film doesn’t benefit from a few laughs up front. Likewise Sobieski’s story is tacked on and underused. She is merely “the girl” and if the role rises a little higher than that, it’s due to Sobieski’s acting more than Clay Tarver and Jeffrey Abrams’ mediocre script.
Halloween Party Background Noise
In exactly the right context, Joy Ride might break through its own mediocrity. My horror film connoisseur friend would know under what circumstances to show this college-age, machines-versus-humans flick... maybe running in the background of a high-school Halloween party.
But then Joy Ride is rated R, so maybe there are no circumstances under which it will break through. Suffice it to say, for most people, Joy Ride can be skipped and ignored.