Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: JOY RIDE
A.k.a. RoadKill (UK)
Director: John Dahl / Writers: J.J. Abrams & Clay Tarver / Cast: Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Jessica Bowman, Ted Levine (voice).
Body Count: 2
Laughter Lines: “I’m not going anywhere until somebody tells me why I should be afraid of a radio.”
There’s a sad irony that the late Paul Walker featured in several movies that centered on reckless driving and its relative consequences.
Joy Ride sprang up in 2001 at the tail end of the teen-slasher/thriller cycle, hijacking elements of Spielberg’s debut classic Duel and mixing them with Screamie stalker madness from a classic prank gone wrong opus, resulting in a solid chiller, albeit not one with a body count.
College kid Lewis Thomas (Walker) is due to fly back to New Jersey from Berkeley, California, for summer vacation and, on a whim, purchases a car on the basis of picking up his unrequited object of lust Venna (Sobieski) from her Colorado school and cruising back east slowly. On route, he’s asked to pick up his wayward brother Fuller (Zahn) from jail in Salt Lake City.
Fuller installs a CB radio into the 1971 sedan (’71 being the year Duel was made) to get the heads up on a clear run to Denver, and the brothers end up playing a prank on a creepy sounding trucker who identifies himself as Rusty Nail. Fuller convinces Lewis into impersonating a horny female trucker and, when they encounter a racist asshole at a motel, lure Rusty Nail to the guy’s room with the promise of sex. One near-fatal beating later, the brothers confess to the cops their prank and are told to get going.
Down the road somewhat, Rusty Nail’s voice comes back over the airwaves demanding an apology, which Fuller flat out refuses to do, and, in a true “the call is coming from inside the house” moment, it turns out he is right behind them on the freeway. The brothers flee and are accosted by the big scary truck, and eventually given a stay of execution when they apologise.
But Rusty Nail doesn’t move on so easily and continues to stalk them, even when they pick up Venna from her school, kidnapping her roommate in a bid to exact further revenge, which includes making the brothers walk naked into a diner to order cheeseburgers, a cat and mouse chase around a cornfield, and playing them off against one another over their mutual attraction to Venna.
Predicament thrillers are usually only good for a single watch, once you’re confronted with some of the bizarre decisions the characters make (they sometimes have to be bad to drive the plot forward), and Joy Ride lacks incessant rewatchability, but is helped along by Dahl’s nice direction, keeping Rusty Nail as an off-camera presence, and the likeable trio of leads, although you’d want to kick Fuller’s ass out of the car if you were either of the other two. The entire final act was re-shot, and the DVD features a total of four alternate endings, of which the happiest was chosen for theatrical releases. Possibly trying to lean away from becoming ‘just another slasher flick’, options for a few extra homicides were skipped, wrapping it up tamely.
Jeepers Creepers made slightly better use of Duel‘s creepier aesthetics and beat Joy Ride to the punch by just over a month, and is just as askew a slasher flick – but then came the sequels…
JOY RIDE 2: DEAD AHEAD
“Detours can be deadly.”
A.k.a. RoadKill 2 (UK)
Director: Louis Morneau / Writers: James Robert Johnston & Bennett Yellin / Cast: Nick Aycox, Nick Zano, Laura Jordan, Kyle Schmid, Mark Gibbon.
Body Count: 4
This efficient enough DVD follow up moves the series into neo-teen slasher territory, borrowing from the likes of Wrong Turn and Wolf Creek, as a quartet of young folks on their way to a joint bachelor/bachelorette party in Las Vegas break down on a dusty backroad when trying to save time.
They happen across a remote ranch house where the mail hasn’t been collected in over a month, break in, find the phones don’t work, and decide to ‘borrow’ a classic 1971 Chevy Chevelle, with the intention to rent a car in the next town, bring it back and leave cash for any damages. Good girl/bride-to-be Melissa even leaves a note with her number.
Naturally, the ranch belongs to Rusty Nail, who decapitated a hooker in the prologue, and finds his plans for downtime scuppered by this new drama. Thus, he kidnaps groom-to-be Bobby from a roadhouse bathroom and calls the others, sending them on several humiliating missions to get him back. First thing he wants is Kayla’s finger after she flipped him off, so they break into a morgue to retrieve one from a corpse. Melissa then has to do a striptease in front of his truck. Kayla’s internet-boyfriend Nik then has to dress as a woman and score some crank.
Rusty Nail, as we expected, isn’t going to play so fair, and Joy Ride 2 reaches an interesting third act as the girls race to save the boys, both of whom are bound to chairs in Rusty’s lair and tortured in a reversal of the usual scenario (and that of the original).
While the Duel-pilfering is kept on the lowdown (there’s a short car chase), the horror and grue is ratcheted up in its place, with the antagonist slotting into a sort of sub-Ben Willis position, facially still kept off camera. There’s a gross open-mouth garrotting, which recalls Wrong Turn. Nicki Aycox – previously seen fending off the winged beastie of Jeepers Creepers II – makes for a heroine you can root for and avoids some of the dumber decisions that tend to plague these things. Given the small cast, the wheels turn at a fast enough pace to make this worth a look.
JOY RIDE 3: ROADKILL
Director/Writer: Declan O’Brien / Cast: Ken Kirzinger, Jesse Hutch, Kirsten Prout, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Leela Savasta, Gianpaolo Venuta, Jake Manley, Dean Armstrong, James Durham.
Body Count: 7
Laughter Lines: “Some say it’s aliens… I say it’s the damn government – the NSA!!!”
Rusty’s third outing is actually a lot better than it ought to be, given that the writing and directing reigns were handed to Declan O’Brien, who outdoes the combined efforts of the three Wrong Turn sequels he turned out. I also like that the film’s subtitle, Roadkill (though curiously not on the film itself) was the UK title for the franchise, which should, by rights, make this one Roadkill 3: Roadkill, but it looks like they didn’t even bother and just kept the original moniker.
A couple of meth-heads plot to rob whichever strung-out trucker they can lure to their hotel room and, of course, pick on the wrong fellow, who overpowers them and chains the pair to the hood of his Peterbilt, challenging them to hang on for a mile, at which point he’ll set them free with a bag of crystal for their trouble. Predictably, their thirst for a high gets the better of them and they end up dragged under the truck and left in chunks along the freeway. Roll titles.
We meet the meat in the form of six members of the Wells Racing team, who are on their way to some tournament or other when they learn of a possible shortcut that’ll save them a day. I know, it is virtually the same plot as The Hills Have Eyes Part II. The old Highway 17, affectionately known as Slaughter Alley, will go unpatrolled so they let loose and end up pissing off guess who?
The Duel-inspired action missing from the previous film reasserts itself to decent effect, as the team’s two cars and Rusty’s truck barrel down the deserted highway, eventually escaping his lethal manoeuvres but far from off the hook, as he succeeds in capturing two of them and holding them to ransom, apparently willing to exchange them for the race car.
The series ventures further into slasher territory, with gruesome demises including the fingers and then the face of one poor soul forced into a fan, a shrinking chain suit thingy, and a guy’s head squashed between a jack and the underside of a truck. A showdown at a wrecking yard reveals a decent twist so that the predicted survivors are changed around a bit, although the resistance against further sequels proves too tempting for some and, well, you can look out for Joy Ride 4: Full Throttle circa 2020 at this rate of turnover.
A little tight-budgeted but still surprisingly fun stuff.
Overall-blurbs-of-interest: Nick Zano was in The Final Destination; Kyle Schmid was in Fear Island; Jesse Hutch was in The Tooth Fairy and Freddy vs Jason, in which Ken Kirzinger played the hockey masked one and got to squish him with a fold-up bed. Kirzinger was also in Stan Helsing and Wrong Turn 2; Kirsten Prout was in My Super Psycho Sweet 16 Parts 2 and 3; Dean Armstrong was in O’Brien’s Wrong Turn 4.