Joy Ride is one of those horrors that it seems everyone has seen at one time or another but can barely remember anything about it. Aside from one thing and that’s the words ‘candy cane’. Seriously, ask anyone about this movie and chances are they’ll instantly try to say “candy cane” in a drawl.
Released in 2001, Joy Ride was directed by John Dahl and written by the duo of J.J. Abrams and Clay Tarver. The movie stars Paul Walker, Steve Zahn and LeeLee Sobieski. In the UK it is actually known as Roadkill but for the purpose of this review we will be referring to its actual title, Joy Ride. Especially as it would get two sequels with the same title.
Lewis (Paul Walker) has the hots for his childhood friend Venna (LeeLee Sobieski) and with the University year over, he spies an opportunity to get some alone time with her. Both are heading home for the summer and he offers to drive them back. A cross country road trip sounds fun to her so she agrees.
A couple of problems have to be dealt with first before Lewis can pick her up though. Firstly, he needs a car, which he gets by refunding his plane ticket. Secondly, while talking with his parents he discovers his older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) has been arrested. The conversation between Lewis and his parents implies this happens a lot. It is a well-done scene in regards to telling us a lot about Fuller and his relationship with his brother.
Lewis agrees to go bail him out and with nowhere to go, Fuller ends up joining him on route to pick up Venna.
While at a gas station, Fuller has a CB radio installed to stave off the boredom of the long drive. While listening to truckers’ chatter, Fuller comes up with the bright idea to play a prank on one particular trucker who goes by the handle of ‘Rusty Nail’. He gets Lewis to pretend to be a sultry woman going by the handle of ‘Candy Cane’. Lewis as Candy Cane then pretends to be interested in Rusty Nail and sets up a meeting with him later in a motel.
It’s a cruel joke, one that even Lewis instantly regrets but Fuller’s excitement wins him over. Unfortunately, their prank backfires massively resulting in someone getting killed. It turns out that Rusty Nail is a bit psychotic and he does not enjoy jokes at his expense.
Fuller, Lewis and Venna (who wasn’t even part of the original prank) are driving for their lives now.
Joy Ride is a ‘wild ride’ of a movie, one that thrills and chills most of the way through. It’s a well written film made all the better thanks to good characters and some great performances. While Walker and Sobieski are a little bland at times, Zahn is excellent. He has great chemistry with the other two and his arc is interesting to watch.
However, Ted Levine as the voice of Rusty Nail is the standout. He puts so much into the voice and you can hear every emotion and nuance that he is trying to get across. He’s sympathetic at times and terrifying at others. It’s his voice that most will hear when they think about this movie.
It’s not a gory film, instead it plays it more as a tension thriller-based kind of horror. We’re supposed to feel uncomfortable with what Lewis and Fuller do at first. Then experience the increasing terror that comes with the idea of being hunted by a trucker with revenge on his mind. The brutality that he does met out is the stuff of nightmares.
Where Joy Ride is found lacking comes with the relationship between Lewis and Veena. Their love-story just doesn’t spark and the wrinkle of Fuller’s interest in her goes nowhere. Although with many cut scenes and different endings, it’s no surprise that it’s pretty pointless. Then there is the finale which descends into lazy rehashing of horror tropes. It’s not a terrible finale, it’s just not interesting.
However, disappointing finale and poor chemistry between some characters aside, Joy Ride is a really memorable horror. Well worth checking out.