Joy Ride (review)

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Ever felt menaced by 18-wheelers on dark highways? Hoo boy, then here’s the flick for you. Lewis Thomas (Paul Walker: Pleasantville) and his brother, Fuller (Steve Zahn: Saving Silverman), break up the dull hours driving across the desolate American West by playing a little CB prank on a trucker calling himself Rusty Nail. Big mistake: Rusty doesn’t like to be jerked around, and now he going to teach the boys a lesson they’ll never forget. And so ensues a cat-and-mouse game, with a tractor-trailer as the former and a beat-up Chevy Impala as the latter. With cheeky self-awareness, screenwriters Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams play with the clichés of the genre — cheap roadside motels, hayseed cops, lonely gas stations, and fuel gauges on “E” — and director John Dahl makes the most of threatening headlights and obscuring rain, transforming what could have been a throwaway teen horror movie into an exercise is neo-noir. Zahn is delightfully offhand, Walker is breezily charming, and Leelee Sobieski (Eyes Wide Shut), as Lewis’s pal Venna, effortlessly exudes a gravitational pull actresses twice her age would kill for. Ultimately, this creepily fun and surprisingly scary on-the-road thriller goes right in the box with other darkly cheerful B suspense flicks like The Hitcher and Breakdown: It starts getting real preposterous halfway through, but by then, you won’t care: you’ll be hooked.

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