Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #247
Also known as Roadkill
Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 5, 2001
Sub-Genre: Road Movie/Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $36,642,838
Running time: 97 minutes
Special Effects: Matt Kutcher, Kelly M. Beatty
Visual Effects: Derek Ledbetter
Director: John Dahl
Producers: J. J. Abrams, Chris Moore
Screenplay: J. J. Abrams, Clay Tarver
Cinematography: Jeff Jur
Score: Marco Beltrami
Editing: Eric L. Beason, Scott Chestnut, Todd E. Miller, Glen Scantlebury
Studio: Regency Enterprises, New Regency, Bad Robot Productions, LivePlanet
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Jessica Bowman, Stuart Stone, Basil Wallace, Brian Leckner, Mary Wickliffe, McKenzie Satterthwaite, Dell Yount, Kenneth White, Luis Cortés, Michael McCleery, Jim Beaver
Suggested Audio Candy
Marco Beltrami “Children of the Corn”
Very few films escape Keeper’s attention. I make it my life’s work to watch them at every given opportunity and it is rare that I miss the boat. However, every now and then a film like Joyride comes along and fails to spark any form of interest. The premise is sound, perfect for an evening’s escapist entertainment but the three leads do precious little to enthuse. Paul Walker and Leelee Sobieski fit the bill perfectly; both totally capable actors but neither one attached to any project which has particularly appealed. Then there’s Steve Zahn and, as many Grueheads will be aware at this point, this dude historically leaves me ice cold. Usually typecast in the kind of roles which make me want to pull my own face off, his attendance here did squat to compel me.
However I am nothing if not hospitable and I proved this by watching Alfonso Cuarón’s technically breathtaking Gravity despite Sandra Bullock headlining. I wish to be proven wrong as I don’t believe in bearing grudges and, should I thoroughly enjoy myself, then I simply hold up my hands. To be fair, it wasn’t just the casting which turned me off; I have a knack for knowing what is in store and it seemed like a routine thriller, with nothing much to elevate it above the droves. I knew it was unlikely to be appalling but was also aware that it would likely settle comfortably in Jeepers Creepers territory; glossy, studio-produced silage with no real ingenuity, just charmed ad campaigns. The 7/10 popcorn flick.
I loves me a good road movie and have been privileged enough to have seen some doozies in my time. Suspense flicks like Steven Spielberg’s Duel, Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown and Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher have all-but sewn up the genre and this clearly wasn’t going to be bench pressing with these Goliaths. Nevertheless, the set-up is one which can but appeal and, in director John Dahl (Red Rock West, Rounders, The Last Seduction) and screenwriters J. J. Abrams and Clay Tarver, Joyride has a competent team of individuals implicated who can bring us exactly the white-knuckle ride we are necessitating.
College student Lewis (Walker) snags himself a 1971 Chrysler Newport and heads off to Denver to pick up the object of his long distance affection Venna (Sobieski). There is a cross to bear this day and that comes in the form of feck-free brother Fuller (Zahn) who is incarcerated in Salt Lake City on drunk and disorderly charges. Lewis responds to his sense of duty and the mismatched pair are soon on the road and bound for their destination. However, when Fuller payrolls a citizen-band radio and they begin settling into the old routine, they unwittingly play a prank too far. Little is hapless Venna aware that, by the time they swing by, there’ll be a whole hamper of shit sandwiches for her to consume.
The threat of Rusty Nail is handled in the correct manner and ambiguity plays out as his key strength throughout. He’s little more than that voice on the airwaves and an ominous shadowy presence at the wheel of a truck and this benefits the experience markedly. With Ted Levine (The Hills Have Eyes, Silence of the Lambs) providing his murky tones he manages to unsettle just enough and, as his grip tightens, we feel the plight of the main protagonists that much more through his menacing turn. This brings the best out of both Walker and, to greater effect, Zahn who, at various points, shows he has the smarts behind those glazed eyes. He proves this by diffusing a potentially hazardous situation at a bar and exploring forbidden feelings for his brother’s belle-in-waiting.
Sobieski meanwhile is most assured and it’s hard not to consider Helen Hunt when watching her ply her trade. Here she is the spare tire but whenever she is called upon to look terrified she does so with aplomb. She also shows a penchant for smuggling cashews as her breasts wear noses on a number of occasions. Saucy little minx; she’s packing some pellets on her, that’s for sure. Poor Zahn doesn’t stand a chance. She plays well off the brothers and displays enough sass to keep the sub-plots ticking along. Wisely, Abrams and Tarver don’t dwell on these distractions once the third act comes rattling in.
There is a doozy of a scene in a deserted cornfield where Rusty Nail makes his presence felt via leering search lights and a number of well orchestrated pay-offs which show Dahl’s aptitude for setting a scene exquisitely. Meanwhile, the green and red hues of the interiors lend themselves greatly to evoking a sense of dread. Alas, for all its best intentions, Joyride doesn’t quite manage to pull it off effectively. Its ending is workmanlike but lacking the noir to set it apart from the masses.
There is much to like about Joyride. Its script is smarter than most, it overcomes any inconsistencies by way of visual distraction and does it rather well. Does it live long in the memory? No but then 7/10 speaks volumes for a film such as this. It does enough and not enough more to truly exceed its bandwidth but, if you’re looking for a decent suspense thriller with bells and whistles attached, it may well be a ride worth hitching.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Dread Factor: 3/5
For the Dread-Heads: Joyride builds steady tension throughout its first two acts and unleashes in the third. There’s even a touch of David Lynch to certain scenes and shades of Lost Highway, particularly with the lighting. The only slight downside is that never dares to show its meanest streak and perhaps that would have helped it leave more of a mark in hindsight.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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