Candy Cane, Candy Cane, Wherefore Art Thou Candy Cane?
Where as some say that John Dahl's "Joy Ride" or "Road Kill" as it is also known is basically a newer version of Steven Spielberg's "Duel" combined with "The Hitcher", I would say that it is more of a movie influenced by both those movies but very different. And the big difference is that "Joy Ride" is a movie made for a modern audience who want to be scared, want to be grossed out and want to be entertained by well paced action and it delivers all 3 of them. It is what you could call a popcorn thriller, not overly interested in creating some clever well thought out storyline but delivering edge of your seat excitement through the action of a truck driver relentlessly hunting down smart arse teenagers who have pissed him off.
Having cashed in his plane ticket home and brought a second hand car, Lewis Thomas (Paul Walker - The Fast and the Furious) sets out driving across country to pick up the girl he secretly fancies, Venna (Leelee Sobieski - Never Been Kissed) from University in Colorado. Along the way he takes a diversion to Salt Lake City to pick up his brother Fuller (Steve Zahn - You've Got Mail), who having been bailed out of jail decides to fit a CB radio to his brother's car. When they decide to play a prank on a truck driver whose CB handle is Rusty Nail their journey stops being fun as the humiliated truck driver becomes relentless in tracking them down and will stop at nothing to take revenge on them for their practical joke.
"Joy Ride" starts off relatively slowly and almost seems to be going nowhere as we watch Lewis by a second hand gas guzzler just so that he can drive to Colorado and pick up Venna the girl he obviously fancies. And it almost feels like a rather limp teen comedy when he picks up his brother having bailed him out of jail and they carry on the road trip, getting a CB radio fitted to the car to have some fun. It all feels rather dull and obvious as we have Fuller doing his version of "Smokey and the Bandit" as he talks to whoever on the CB radio, although I had to laugh when he described it as a previous type of internet chat room. But thankfully "Joy Ride" does pick up the pace from the moment we hear Rusty Nails low voice across the CB band waves and what follows on from there occasionally borders on the clever as Lewis and Fuller wind this anonymous truck driver, known as Rusty Nail, up only for him to turn into this relentless man looking for revenge.
Now here is the thing it has to be said that "Joy Ride" does feel familiar, that relentless figure, someone we never see but only hear, on a mission to get revenge has been done before. But director John Dahl employs this familiar idea well and doesn't try to make it anything more than an exciting movie for those who want well paced action with a touch of humour. He slowly builds up the relentlessness of the pursuit drawing us to the edge of the seat as we wonder what will happen if Rusty Nail does catch these two young men. And whilst keeping it simple, keeping it about the adrenalin of Lewis and Fuller being scared for their lives when they discover Rusty Nail is on to them makes it work. And to be honest whilst keeping it simple he delivers the surprises of the story perfectly, the almost obligatory what is in the trunk scene has us guessing wondering whether it is something macabre or something comical.
In many ways if you think to much about the storyline to "Joy Ride" you will realise how stupid it is with various elements which you end up questioning. But it is most certainly not a movie that demands analysing but a movie where you are expected to enjoy the ride. And so whilst it may end up bordering on the ridiculous as the relentless action heats up for a fast and furious climax you can't but help enjoy it. You are drawn into the plight of these teenagers as you see Rusty Nail's truck rocking in the distance, engine revving just waiting to go careering towards them. And whilst for me it goes to far with what is only an unnecessary and cheesy final scene I did feel that I had been entertained.
The irony of "Joy Ride" is the star of the movie is not any of the actors we see but the voice we hear over the CB radio calling for "Candy Cane". It is chilling, it is relentless and it strikes fear deep into your soul and it is the growling tones of Ted Levine who achieves this. The fact that we never really see Rusty Nail makes it even more ominous and just hearing Levine break the silence with "Candy Cane" is enough to make you freeze in fear. And so whilst Paul Walker and Steve Zahn are the central focus of the movie as Lewis and Fuller Thomas, whilst Leelee Sobieski adds some welcome sexiness as Venna it is Ted Levine who steals every single scene that his voice appears in.
What this all boils down to is that "Joy Ride" is a surprisingly good modern thriller which doesn't try to be anything more than adrenalin filled. It may start a little slowly but director John Dahl builds it up with one edge of your seat scene after another whilst creating a real sense of foreboding when Rusty Nail becomes this relentless truck driver who will stop at nothing. But it is the growling tones of Ted Levine who make it work and just hearing him call out for "Candy Cane" delivers such an amazing sense of fear.