Joy Ride

Directed by John Dahl
Starring: Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Jessica Bowman, and the voice of Ted Levine.
MPAA Rating: R for violence/terror and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
October 27, 2001

I believe that the reason why filmgoing standards are so low is because few people have seen films that they regard as "old". I can pretty much guarantee you that no more than a handful of the teenagers who went to see Joy Ride had even heard of Duel. Certainly, they're all familiar with its director: Steven Spielberg. In his first feature (which was made for American television, but released theatrically in Europe), the young mogul-to-be crafted a brilliant thriller about a man who is chased by a faceless truck driver. This low-budget masterpiece got him noticed right away, and the next thing you know he was swimming with mechanical sharks. But this was all thirty years ago -- ancient history to a 17-year-old. Joy Ride is essentially a remake of that film, despite the credits which imply that it was an original story.

This time, instead of a single man, we have two brothers (Paul Walker and Steve Zahn), who are eventually joined by a girl (Leelee Sobieski) on a cross-country road trip. Using a CB radio, the brothers play a practical joke on a trucker who calls himself Rusty Nail (voiced by Ted Levine). Walker pretends to be a woman and invites the lonely driver for a rendezvous at a roadside motel. He gives him the number of the room next door, to compound the joke on the obnoxious bigot who is staying there.

When Rusty Nail arrives, he nearly beats the unexpected guest to death and drives off. Back on the road the next day, the brothers hear from him again, and realize they are being followed by a psychopath who wants to avenge his embarrassment.

Setting the film up like this essentially gives it an excuse to contain a lot of dialogue. If you watch Duel, you will notice that it has exceptionally little dialogue, especially for a TV movie. Of course, Spielberg knew how to tell a compelling story on completely visual terms, even at a tender age. John Dahl is a good director, certainly, but less of a pure filmmaker. His first successful film, The Last Seduction, was an erotic thriller that had a lot of dialogue before it got to any thrilling erotica. In that case it worked because the dialogue (written by Steve Barancik) was so good, you forgot about the imminent sex scene.

In Joy Ride, we wait forever for these guys to stop yakking and do something. There are some cute moments, but nothing exceptional until the chase begins. That's when the film really starts to pick up visually and emotionally. But then, it stops. About an hour into it, we are reminded that they're supposed to pick up Sobieski, and we're back to bland blah-blah-blah. Finally, Rusty Nail catches up with them again for a thrilling end sequence. Unfortunately, it ends up dissatisfying because you know Dahl could have done it so much better.

I could give Joy Ride a positive rating even after its unevenness, but I'm still bitter about it ripping off Duel. I'm sure Spielberg doesn't mind; he's still busy trying to figure out how to pay for A.I..

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Joy Ride (2001/I)

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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan