Friday, October 5, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 32


Take a Ride

Director leads young cast, viewers in smart, engaging thriller 
Joy Ride
Starring Steve Zahn, Paul Walker
3.5 stars
20th Century Fox
Rated R

By Geronimo Rodriguez
Daily Cougar Staff

How many directors can say their film was snubbed at the Oscars for being released on cable instead of at the theaters?

Merie W. Wallace/20th Century Fox

(Pictured from left to right) Lewis (Paul Walker), Venna (Leelee Sobieski) and Fuller (Steve Zahn) flee from a vicious trucker out for revenge.

John Dahl can, but don't be surprised if he doesn't mention what happened when his film, The Last Seduction, missed out on Tinseltown's
red-carpet glory.

The subtle, mild-mannered director isn't known for stealing the spotlight or smothering his films with a self-indulgent style.

Instead, Dahl is more known for his film noir approach and ability to capture a world of open, dry land that serves as the backdrop for most of
his suspenseful stories.

While Dahl's previous works have never been even close to being considered teen flicks, he takes a chance in the mainstream world and
comes up with an entertaining film in Joy Ride.

Ironically, when watching Dahl's latest movie, it's safe to say he never does anything to remind audiences of films such as Scream and I
Know What You Did Last Summer.

Joy Ride's first impressions from the trailers may have moviegoers thinking this film belongs in the teen/horror genre that is known for being
more mindless than suspenseful.

But with good chemistry between the characters and the presence of an excellent storyteller, Joy Ride barrels over those plot holes in the first
few minutes of the film, only to take audiences for an amusing, thrilling ride.

College freshman Lewis Thomas (Paul Walker) plans to hit the open road with a platonic friend, Venna (Leelee Sobieski), who just split from
her boyfriend.

Soon the wide-eyed Lewis sees things changing between him and Venna, but he finds a fork in the road when he hears his older brother,
Fuller (Steve Zahn), was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct.

From here, all roads lead to trouble as Lewis decides that three square meals a day aren't good enough for his older brother and makes
Fuller's bail.

Fuller isn't really that much of a pest of an older brother to Lewis; he's just the kind of person who goes too far to get a few laughs.

In this case, Fuller pushes Lewis to play a joke on a trucker, who is handled "Rusty Nail," with their newly installed Citizen's Band radio.

Apparently, "Rusty Nail" has deep problems with being laughed at and seeks ultimate revenge by shifting the pranks to another level, with the
two brothers being the butt of the jokes.

The story takes a chance and begins with this premise that will have audiences wondering if they've just made a mistake by paying for a film
that'll turn out to be a never-ending chase between a mysterious, dark figure and a couple of teens.

But once the film gets up to speed, it's clear Dahl did not intend to make audiences sit through another one of those films.

Instead, Dahl skillfully delivers a film with suspense and humor, illustrating how a quality director can improve an average story line.

Just think of Dahl taking simple concepts from a number of past films and deciding how to sharpen those ideas to accommodate the film's

"It seems to me that people enjoy themselves better when they're laughing and if you can balance that, it's just more entertaining," Dahl said.
"When you're scared and laughing at the same time, it just makes the experience a lot more intense."

Another good thing in Dahl's approach to Joy Ride is how he avoids all the concepts similar films have worn out and subsequently made
impossible to watch.

There won't be any ridiculous chase scenes where the victims can clearly get away, but don't, only to be stabbed or strangled without putting
up a fight.

And don't worry about "Rusty Nail" wearing a mask similar to the hideous cherub-face in Valentine; we never see the deranged trucker's face,
we only hear his rough voice from the CB radio throughout the film.

As for the acting, Walker (The Fast and the Furious) and Sobieski (The Glass House) fill their roles as Lewis and Venna, respectively, with
enough effort to counter Dahl's storytelling.

But these two performances are clearly overshadowed by Zahn's (Saving Silverman) entertaining character, whose scene-stealing antics,
which establish the direction this film is going.

Zahn, who has done his slurred-speaking, dry-humor bit in a number of films (including the Steven Soderberg's hugely underrated Out of
Sight), also offers a realistic sense of chemistry between his character and other characters, a strong attribute for any film.

"I just always try to make certain situations different, unique," Zahn said.

According to Dahl, this would be an understatement. Dahl, who met Zahn when he was casting for the part in Rounders that went to Edward
Norton, spoke highly of Zahn's talent for combining the suspense and humor in the film.

"The thing is that Steve could remain sympathetic throughout the turns in the story," Dahl said. "I think he's a gifted dramatic actor but he's also
incredibly funny."

Ultimately, Joy Ride is an engaging story that never intends to reinvent any genre; it's simply Dahl, an excellent director, showing how a good
thriller is done.

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