I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Joy Ride

tn_joyrideThat’s funny, back in 2001 Paul Walker seemed like a pretty boy teen star, a jock from VARSITY BLUES, so even though I always kinda liked him (and defended him from the savage hatred of the Ain’t It Cool talkbacks) he was probly the reason I didn’t take JOY RIDE entirely seriously, didn’t give it proper credit as a really solid thriller. I would’ve told you the movie was good, but I would’ve thrown a “ha ha, it’s actually” on front of that. Now I’m not as self conscious, and now Walker is the specific reason I’m giving it a long overdue re-watch. With his last movie coming out on Friday I thought it would be a good time to take a look at a few of his other roles in tribute.

See, he was a pretty boy, and he never did turn into an actor of great range. But here, in the same year he graduated to cop roles in THE FAST AND FURIOUS (which he probly got because Rob Cohen had directed him in THE SKULLS, and which came out about 3 months before this), he could also still play a youth. He turns his air of nice guy innocence toward a leading man role, which in this case is mostly about fear and problem-solving. How do we get the fuck out of here? How do we get this guy to leave us alone? Problems like that.

This is a road movie stalker like DUEL, ROAD GAMES or THE HITCHER, but for the SCREAM floating-head-poster era. Walker plays Lewis, a hopelessly smitten college kid driving cross country to get home during a break. Along the way he will pick up his high school friend/long distance crush Venna (THE WICKER MAN‘s Leelee Sobieski). But then he gets word that his fuckup older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn, A PERFECT GETAWAY) is in jail and nobody else feels sorry enough for him to get him out, so Lewis goes 500 miles out of his way to post bail. Don’t ever do that, the movie will soon teach us.

mp_joyrideThe brothers end up on a road trip together, and though Zahn was considerably older than Walker (which explains why they haven’t seen each other in years) he’s the immature troublemaker of the two. He buys a used CB radio which he uses to get info about speed traps but also to do wacky voices and annoy random truck drivers. He calls it “a prehistoric internet,” which makes him a troll. He eggs Lewis into joining in, like little kids doing dumb prank phone calls or ordering people pizzas. Lewis is hesitant or uncomfortable but gives in and sees the childish humor of it.

Unfortunately they pick the wrong fucking individual to prehistoric-catfish. His CB handle is Rusty Nail and he’s the uncredited voice of Ted Levine (who was also in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS). They humiliate the guy too much by setting him up for a late night rendezvous with a jerk they run into at a hotel (Kenneth White, voice of Fisherman #2, ROVER DANGERFIELD). I would say “humiliate the poor guy” except it’s impossible to have pity for him when you see how he reacts to being wronged. First he kills the guy at the hotel (by ripping his entire lower jaw off!), even though that guy was a victim of the prank himself. Then he stalks and attacks our prankers, elaborately terrorizing them with psychological torment, abduction of loved ones, etc. I don’t mean this as a dig on the profession of truck driving, but this guy has an extraordinary talent for on-the-spot planning and executing that I think could serve him better in many other lines of work.

That brings me to one of the reasons this works. It’s that great class tension trick. These aren’t spoiled rich kids, their resources are limited, but Fuller is clearly turning his nose up to the working man when he does his fake southern accent on the CB. Ha ha, these dumb hick truck drivers, I’m gonna fuck with them. That adds an extra coating of discomfort on top of the tension of Lewis knowing what he just did was mean and instantly regretting it. Then for an extra bump there’s a scene where Fuller parks in a handicapped spot when he’s paying for the hotel room. Lewis tells him not to, and he scoffs and says he’s only going to be a minute. It doesn’t become significant, it’s just a reminder of what kind of person we’re dealing with here, so entitled and “the rules don’t apply to me” that he can’t park one spot over rather than leave his brother in the car feeling like a piece of shit.

There are a bunch of great and suspenseful set pieces. One of the most intense is when they’re in the hotel room hearing Rusty Nail’s attempted booty call go down. We’re just watching the brothers listening to the wall. The voices on the other side are too hard to make out. Good use of the “leaving it to the imagination” approach.

Alot of the scariness comes from hearing his voice but not seeing his face, even when the camera’s in the room with him. I don’t remember thinking this at the time, but it has a bunch in common with SCREAM. It’s this mean, disembodied voice threatening them from somewhere nearby, unseen, but making it clear he sees them. Back then we just associated SCREAM with movie references and meta type business and so-called “WB actors,” named for the teen oriented TV shows on the network that Warner Brothers had at the time, and which I guess Walker shared many qualities with, though he was never on Dawson’s Creek. We didn’t pay as much attention to this type of suspense technique which SCREAM didn’t invent but did use really well. And so does JOY RIDE.

It also sounds alot like SCREAM because it has the same composer, Marco Beltrami. I think it could stand to be a little more subtle, but to be fair this sound was pretty new at the time and plays more generic a decade plus later.

I think there’s also a little bit of I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER in there in the fact that the kids are guilty of doing something that caused them to be targeted for revenge, and at least one of them feels regret and shame and a certain sense of maybe deserving it. So that adds some uneasiness there.

This small cast is very effective, especially Zahn, who is funny enough to be a complete ass but without me totally hating him. During the climax he does a terrified run as he’s trying to figure out what to do. In another context it could be comical, but here it’s completely convincing as fear.

still_joyride

And Walker is good playing shy, makes it believable that he hasn’t sealed the deal with this girl despite the handsome cut of his jib and the dreaminess of his eyes and what not. Most importantly I believe that his standard mode is the nice guy and not the doofus making dumb prank calls like his brother. I believe that he had to be pushed into it and then instantly felt bad about it.

When choosing a thumbnail for this I purposely didn’t pick a shot inside the car, even though that’s where most of the movie takes place. Although I had no problem watching him be terrorized by vehicles in the movie, taken out of context it felt a little ghoulish. It seems a little ironic that he died in a fiery car crash in real life and so much of his legacy is these vehicular mayhem movies. But it’s not really ironic. He loved doing stunts and being in fast cars and stuff. It just worked out badly. That’s the way it goes, I guess. I hope I can continue to enjoy the beginning and middle of his career without fixating on the tragic end.

The director is John Dahl, who was so impressive at the time ’cause he did RED ROCK WEST and THE LAST SEDUCTION. You’d think this mainstream hit would help launch him into bigger movies, but he kinda petered out in features before becoming a really prolific TV director (including episodes of Justified, The Americans, Terriers, Breaking Bad, etc.) One of the screenwriters had better luck though. J.J. Abrams, who wrote it with Clay Tarver, I do believe is directing the new STAR WARS movie thanks to the success of his TV show Felicity which I’ve heard alot of good buzz about being a show that men should not be embarrassed to watch. Might have to check it out some day. Apparently it shares with JOY RIDE a nostalgia for young love, people from small towns traveling long distance to take a shot at their high school crush, etc. But surprisingly more people are hit by speeding vehicles in Felicity. JOY RIDE goes a long way on the threat of violence and a few non-vehicular acts of brutality in hotel rooms. Also there’s a scene where the truck chases them through a cornfield, you see the top of the truck like a shark gliding through water.

Have you ever ntoiced that in movies turning bright lights on makes a loud clang? That happens here. It’s probly not as abused as the sounds used for knives unsheathing or bugs crawling, but it’s a common one.

Anyway, JOY RIDE is what somebody might call a cracking thriller. It’s a good concept, good cast, well directed set pieces that are very tense and uncomfortable. It has very tight, efficient storytelling. For example if you check the deleted scenes on the DVD there was an entire section where they go to the police and try to trace the call and get attacked in a police car driven by Walton Goggins (Justified). In the finished movie they just have him say he’ll kill his hostage if they go to the police. Their entire interaction with cops is Jim Beaver (Justified) yelling at them for the pain in the ass they caused him and telling them to get the fuck out of town.

JOY RIDE is a joy to take a ride with in my opinion would be one thing you could say about it.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 at 11:29 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “Joy Ride”

  1. I haven’t seen this one since it’s come out, so I don’t remember it in a lot of detail, except for that scene where Paul Walker is naked. That scene I remember in vivid detail. Anyhoo, I always thought back fondly on this as an enjoyable movie. I’ll have to watch it again.

    I did like the casting of Leelee Sobieski a lot. She wasn’t your typical Hollywood Barbie doll, and to especially pair her up as the object of Paul Walker’s long-abiding infatuation made it more interesting. I think she’s gotten even more beautiful as she’s aged, but back then she was more relatable as a regular girl.

  2. Leelee Sobieski is a regular girl? With those eyes? And those, um, other eyes?

    This period of horror gets a lot of flack, but it’s still perfect for watching with friends who aren’t total horror nuts and don’t want to deal with the questionable production values of the 70s and 80s or the punishing brutality of post-millenial horror. This one fits right in that sweet spot.

  3. I didn’t mean regular like she was ordinary, so much as she was real and relatable. Unlike someone like Megan Fox or Shannon Elizabeth.

  4. The Original Paul

    April 1st, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Maggie – I dunno… Shannon Elizabeth is an outspoken environmentalist and a poker player. I think I can relate to that a heck of a lot more than I can relate to Sobieski. As for “real”… as in, not really putting on a “face” for the crowd… erm, I find that very subjective indeed. A few years ago I think most people would’ve said that Rolf Harris or Jimmy Saville were about as “real” as it got. (Just two honest hardworking men-of-the-people, right?) Don’t get me wrong, I like Sobieski as an actor. I just don’t know that much about her personally, and what I do know isn’t particularly endearing to me. She seems like a nice enough person but I don’t care for some of the opinions she’s voiced. Sorry. She just seems like a really strange choice for someone “real and relatable”, as you put it.

    Anyway… JOY RIDE… known as ROADKILL over here, and I have to say I prefer the British title. Good review, Vern. I’ve always recommended this film here, and I stand by that recommendation. I find the two central characters instantly recognisable. It’s pretty damn easy to see why Zahn’s character and Walker’s character do what they do, and why Walker’s character is so easily influenced by Zahn. I love their interactions with the police near the start of the film, and there’s the use of a refrain – a device I normally hate, because it comes off as just so unnatural when used badly, which it usually is – but it works so damn well in this film.

    I didn’t recognise Ted Levine’s voice, but knowing who it was, it wasn’t hard to identify the insect-guy from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. He does great work in this film too. I also love the arc that Paul Walker’s character has (and Walker gives one of his best performances to carry it off). It’s not the most subtle – he goes from uber-feminised to masculine protector figure – but I also love that Sobieski’s character becomes both the stereotypical hostage and the strongest of the three of them. There’s quite a lot of gender-battle stuff mixed in with this film, and while it’s constantly there, and sometimes blatant, it never crosses the line to “shoved in your face”.

    Yeah… I have nothing at all bad to say about this film. It just works. It tries to be a lower-budget road movie thriller and succeeds admirably. It has some fantastic cinematography and soundwork too (it’s a beautiful-looking film) so it has that going for it as well. I own it on DVD and have watched it four or five times now, and it hasn’t gotten old yet.

  5. Leelee made quite an impression as the jailbaity daughter in EYES WIDE SHUT. Kubrick was wise to put her in granny panties and thick bra, her being of a young age and all. Didn’t make her character any less disturbing, mind you…

  6. I have no knowledge whatsoever of Leelee Sobieski as a person. I was referring to her acting package – look, talent, style, etc. That is was I found refreshing in a role that could have easily gone to a living Bratz doll.

  7. The Original Paul

    April 1st, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    Maggie – it’s interesting how different people see different things. I find it difficult to separate Leelee Sobieski the public persona from Leelee Sobieski the actor – call it the Tom Cruise effect if you like. Actually Tom Cruise is a surprisingly good comparison, now that I think about it. They both give the impression of being… slightly unhinged, yet I like both of them as actors and they’ve both appeared in some of my favorite films. ROADKILL / JOYRIDE is probably the most “straight” role that I’ve seen her in, actually.

  8. Solid movie – and the DTV sequel is actually worth watching.

  9. Jim Beaver is cool. He was in one of the last, great episodes of X-FILES, “Field Trip”.

  10. Felicity did have a lot of vehicular damage, didn’t it? Very apropos analysis there, Vern.

  11. This is a really great little “unseen-truck-driver-terrorises-our-heroes” movie. There is also a very low budget 2008 Brit horror-thriller in a similar vein called ‘Hush’. Totally worth checking out as it’s chock full of nasty violence and suspenseful set-pieces.

  12. Crushinator Jones

    April 2nd, 2015 at 9:35 am

    Loved the review, and also keep up the Felicity references Vern. I love how you just slip them in there once every 12 – 18 months or so, just long enough for me to stop looking for them and then – WHAM – a chuckle.

  13. I like to think that Vern continues to squirrel away to watch FELICITY all these years later. Like, at the end of a hard day, he cuddles up with a glass of chardonnay, a box of Malamars, and a DVD set of one of the pre-haircut seasons. “I deserve this,” he thinks, curling his feet up underneath him.

  14. They just made a part 3 directed by Declan O’Brien (the Wrong Turn sequels not directed by Joe Lynch) and it’s apparantly extremely gory and stupid like those Wrong Turn sequels directed by Declan O’Brien

  15. The Original Paul

    April 2nd, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Sternshein – yeah, I think I will be passing on that. No offence meant to Mr O’Brien (I don’t know if he did WRONG TURN 2, but for a DTV sequel it was markedly better than its predecessor. Not that that means very much considering the predecessor we’re talking about here.) But still, I’m not a fan of these sequels.

    I have never seen or heard of FELICITY, except for the occasional reference on these forums. I kinda feel like I might be missing out on something life-affirming.

  16. Ah yes JOY RIDE, me and my mom rented this and watched it sometime in 2001 I think and this is one of the best examples of a movie 100% exceeding your expectations, I was expecting it to be some hokey ripoff of DUEL so imagine my surprise when it turned out actually pretty great.

  17. zachary churchy

    April 3rd, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    This is a much better movie than it deserves to be. I particularly LOVE the first half, pretty much right up until the girls get kidnapped. At that point, it kinda loses me, but, man, when it’s just them being stalked from hotel to hotel, it’s a really good, really well written thriller.

  18. flyingguillotine

    April 3rd, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    I’m glad you put some focus on that scene in which the guys listen to the motel wall… It’s a fantastic beat, with great tension and excellent sound design. Just watching the characters strain to hear — and forcing the audience to do the same — is really potent stuff.

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