Rated R - Running Time: 1:36 - Released 10/5/01

The second horror feature in the last two months whose story line stems from an acute case of road rage (after August's Jeepers Creepers), Joy Ride is like a cross country trip in a beat-up Chrysler: at first it's fun, fast-paced, and full of promise, but before long it becomes tedious and uncomfortable. But this time it has the added pleasure of C.B. radio. I don't know whether to blame writers Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams, who felt the need to pad the film with filler in order to achieve a respectable running time, or director John Dahl, who was so busy bathing everything in red light he failed to see the need for trimming said filler. So I'll just blame all three.

Then there's the cast. Paul Walker, whose career so far has run from bad (The Fast And The Furious) to worse (The Skulls), definitely has the Hollywood look, but lacks the depth needed for any project meant to be taken seriously. In other words, he's perfect for this movie. Meanwhile, Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski are capable actors who have yet to really distinguish themselves. This film isn't going to do it for them, but they handle the mediocre script with reasonable finesse, clearly aware that they're riding in a vehicle below their talents.

A Berkeley student planning to fly back East for break, Lewis (Walker) is missing his girlfriend Venna (Sobieski) so much—especially her fabulous, braless breasts that seem to turn up (and I mean that literally) in every Sobieski movie—that he decides to cash in his plane ticket and drive home so he can pick her up in Colorado on the way. But first he must stop by Salt Lake City to bail his bad-boy brother Fuller (Zahn) out of jail. Fuller not only decides to tag along on the trip, but has a C.B. radio installed in Lewis's car so they can play pranks on truckers and maybe get themselves killed. Using the handle "Candy Cane" and a smooth, sultry voice, they entice a Wyoming cottonpicker named "Rusty Nail" to meet them at a roadside motel (room 17) for some two-way lovin'. Although the joke succeeds and they both get a great laugh listening from room 18, they find out the next morning that the male occupant of room 17 has been strangled and Rusty Nail is back between the ditches, switching his vengeance to their frequency. This guy is not a good buddy at all. After a chase down the highway and a tense confrontation, they think it's all over and move on Boulder to pick up Venna. But before long, Rusty Nail reappears at their back door and continues to modulate, not only aware of their current 20, but that they now have a real Candy Cane as a seat cover. 10-4?

Thus begins the aforementioned padding. Before its bloody conclusion, this film meanders hopelessly around the Midwest, incorporating a tiresome array of unnecessary elements like a nude truck stop scene, a chase through a cornfield, and a strained love-triangle between Venna and the two boys. Even with a 1½-hour running time, it seems to go on much longer than it needs to, resulting in a largely joyless ride for yours truly. **½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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