I remember wanting to see Joy Ride way back when it was first announced as a movie called Squelch. I can’t decide if I’m happy they changed that title as the idea of a sequel called Squelch 2 makes me bizarrely happy. I didn’t know the cast really and had no idea who writer JJ Abrams was (though did anyone at that point) but I liked the concept and was totally in. Then came a period where I was bizarrely obsessed with the movie. After my initial theatrical viewing I bought the DVD, watched the movie, the three commentary tracks and then the movie a second time in about the span of a week. Maybe I was sick in bed and couldn’t get up to the change the disc but this fucker was in rotation for a while.
I hadn’t seen this in a very long time when I grabbed the blu ray recently for 8 bucks but when I saw that somehow a part 3 was out I knew I had to go back and make my way through this as what the fuck is Joy Ridedoing as a trilogy?!
Joy Ride stars Paul Walker as a dude who is so hard up for LeeLee Sobieski (has anyone seen her since Wicker Man? 88 Minutes I guess? I miss her) he sells his plane ticket home and uses the money to buy an old shitty car that he will use to pick her up so they spend some quality time together. Things get sidetracked when he has to stop along the way and bail his brother Steve Zahn out of jail. Zahn picks up a CB radio and goads Walker into fucking with one of the truck drivers by pretending to be a horny woman and asking him to meet her at a nearby motel. Things go really really fucking south and they soon find themselves being stalked and terrorized by the truck driver who goes by the handle Rusty Nail.
Joy Ride takes its time to get going, not introducing Rusty Nail until a little ways in. They do that thing you don’t see as much in horror movies these days where they try and present you with characters that you actually give a shit about so you’re invested when things start to go bad for them. Walker and Zahn are both good, I would actually call this a highlight for Walker even though his female voice is just awful. Just…just terrible. It sounds so much like a dude that it’s almost tough to buy into the central idea that anybody with functioning ears would think they were talking to a real female. But then it’s not really a movie seeped in realism so whatever, I can let it slide.
I liked that we didn’t have to spend a lot of time with the brothers delivering speeches about their past together. We learn about their relationship but they don’t spend a lot of time fighting and yelling at each other which I feel many other movies with siblings as the leads wouldn’t be able to resist. There is genuine affection between the two of them which makes it easy to root for them. Sobieski is also quite good but she doesn’t become much of a factor until the second half of the film. I like that her character is thrown into this shit without warning and just has to deal with it. Also kudos for resisting the urge to have her spend the whole time giving the leads shit.
The highlight though is antagonist Rusty Nail, terrifically voiced by Ted Levine as we never really get a good look at the actual character. There’s something completely terrifying about a villain who absolutely cannot be reasoned with. Usually it’s a faceless unknown killer but here the leads get to converse with him and try to appeal to reason but Rusty Nail ain’t having that shit. We never really find out much about him but who cares. He’s a great villain as is and I can’t imagine there would be any benefit to giving him a back story as to why he is so fucked up. It’s like that other awesome evil truck movie Duel. That movie works well because you are never ever told why in the hell that truck driver is trying to kill the lead and the same logic applies here. I don’t need to know why Rusty Nail is this hell bent on destroying these people for what is generally a harsh but forgettable prank.
The film finds a very good balance between humour and suspense. Zahn is around to provide some levity but at the same time the characters are treating their situation very seriously. It’s not just a series of wise cracks that no rational human being would ever make were they in this same scenario. Yes Steve Zahn’s freaked out face is inherently funny but the final act of this movie is genuinely intense and makes up for somewhat of a draggy middle where we have to deal with scenes of Zahn attempting to sleep with Sobieski. These scenes don’t really go anywhere so it’s nice when shit picks up again.
So yeah, Joy Ride is still really good. It has a great villain and suspenseful set pieces while never sacrificing characterization. The humour feels natural and the situation as a whole is, not necessarily relatable or realistic but at the very least it’s within the realm of possibility which makes it work well. This one is an easy recommendation even still.