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PAUL WALKER AND STEVE ZAHN IN JOY RIDE

year: 2001 cast: Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Jessica Bowman rating: ***1/2
A cross between DUEL, where an extremely determined Mack truck, driven by an unseen antagonist, chases a salesman along a desert highway, and THE HITCHER, where an actual killer stalks a naïve kid on the open road, JOY RIDE is an effective thriller (co-written and produced by JJ Abrams) about the consequences of screwing around with a lonely, dangerous basket case via CB radio…

Especially one voiced by Buffalo Bill from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: with a spooky tone only an uncredited Ted Levine could provide, these guys should have known better.
Paul Walker cruising the highway in JOY RIDE
The joke is that Paul Walker’s Lewis Thomas... after buying a used hot rod and picking up his brother Fuller, played by Steve Zahn, from jail... fakes a sexy female voice on the CB, both constructing a hookup between lonely trucker “Rusty Nail” in a motel with another man.

The scene where the bros stand inside their room next door, listening to the joke unfold by pressing curious ears to the wall, is upped a few notches thanks to ominous thunder & lightning: Sporadic flashes reflecting off an eerie painting provide a Film Noir aesthetic, springboarding the rest of this dark journey.
Paul Walker as Lewis Thomas in JOY RIDE
In the fashion of THE HITCHER, Rusty Nail becomes a tricky mind-gamer, putting Lewis and Fuller on a desperate maze to save their own lives, along with the fate of two girls including love-interest Venna (Leelee Sobieski)… Like DUEL, a demon-speed truck becomes the real threat, chasing the duo/trio along backroads and eventually through a moonlit wheat field.

There’s a ton of action and last-minute suspense alleviated with enough downtime to provide the brothers (and the audience) a break between pandemonium…
Paul Walker and Steve Zahn as tormented brothers in JOY RIDE
This is where we get to know the characters: the late Paul Walker’s performance improves with time – his limited California drawl is a bit sleepy at first, but then, pitted against the trucker and dealing with his bad luck sibling, he becomes more and more intense. Meanwhile, Steve Zahn works perfectly as the frantic comic relief. As a combo, both actors successfully pull off a genuine, palpable fear of normal guys dogged by a mysterious, unrelenting terror.

Everything else aside, it’s Zahn and Walker’s synergized chemistry, along with Levine's creepy voice, that makes JOY RIDE a thoroughly addictive nightmare, rising above bouts of utter implausibility and action genre clichés.
Paul Walker's Lewis on the phone with...
Leelee Sobieski as Venna
Dennis Weaver didn't even have it this bad...
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