Saturday, March 29, 2014

Joy Ride


After reluctantly saying goodbye to all of the lovely people at the  Happy Hassid Acres nursing facility, even the lady who emptied her Foley bag on my feet, it was time to head off to the casino at Niagara Falls where I had been booked into the Emerald show room. When I got there, I found that there had been some mistake in the arrangements and that the management had already promised the venue to 'Penny and her Prancing Poodles'. I immediately summoned, Joseph, my manager to deal with the nitwits running the institution while I retired to Planet Hollywood for lunch, to sign autographs and to donate one of Norman's cremain figurines and a Mrs. Norman Maine collector doll to their archive. 

Joseph and Peter, a representative of Lovejoy productions, the local promoters, came to break the sad news. The dancing doggies had an iron clad contract and I would be unable to use the venue. I am nothing, if not a survivor and was struck by a most brilliant notion. Why couldn't I, Vicki Lester, entertainer extraordinaire, be the first person to give a public concert while riding over the falls in a barrel? Think of the opportunity! Joseph immediately ran off to the local cooperage for a suitable container and some bubble wrap, Peter headed off to get a microphone and webcam set up so I would be able to broadcast live, and I found my musicians to go over Falling in Love Again as an appropriate song. 

As it would take some time to set this up, I had time to race off to the Niagara Falls cinema where I caught John Dahl's new film, Joy Ride with Steve Zahn, Paul Walker and Leelee Sobieski. Dahl has been one of my favorite film makers since his neo-noir Red Rock West and The Last Seduction (currently being adapted into a new kabuki musical to star yours truly later in the year). He has the ability of taking Hollywood formula, hiring a talented cast, and putting his own spin on the proceedings to make entertaining little genre films. This one is no exception. 

Joy Ride concerns two brothers, Lewis (Walker), a college student and Fuller (Zahn), a ne'er do well. Lewis, studying at Berkeley, and secretly in love with childhood pal Venna (Sobieski), decides to buy a car and pick her up at U of Colorado in Boulder and drive with her back to their home in New Jersey. On the way, he finds out that Fuller is in jail in Salt Lake City on a drunk and disorderly so he stops by to bail him out. The brothers, to pass the miles, purchase a CB radio and Fuller persuades Lewis to imitate a woman 'Candy Cane'. Soon, 'she' is in libidinous talk with 'Rusty Nail', a trucker and, as a prank, the boys set up a fake assignation. Unfortunately, Rusty turns out to be a psychopath and someone ends up hurt and Rusty wants to get back at our boys. Soon, the two of them, along with Venna, are being chased across the wide open spaces of the American west and plains, by a psycho in an unstoppable semi. 

Dahl knows how to ratchet up the tension and keep the film moving and stages some great action scenes, especially a chase through a cornfield. There's also a number of wonderfully creepy moments including spray painted highway signs, a run in with rednecks in a bar, and a couple of 'damsel in jeopardy' bits. He knows he's making a formula film and he's determined to make it as fun as he can. He's also a smart enough film maker to leave the villain shrouded in mystery. We never know quite who or what he is. He also brings a lot of oddball levity to the situation at times so you're never quite sure if you're watching a redo of Duel or a redo of Handle With Care. 

The writing is a bit sloppy and there are a few plot holes. It's never explained how the villain is able to be quite so prescient about what our heroes are up to. He just always seems to know. ESP?  Other truckers spying for him? Space aliens? The movie was also obviously made on the cheap with the occasional repeated location. (The same 'State Line' truck stop seems to be on both ends of the state of Wyoming.) 

The film is essentially a four character road film with the fourth being the villainous unseen Rusty. The three young leads are in essentially every scene. Zahn, one of the best comic character actors working, has a field day with Fuller and he holds the film together. His loopy delivery and off the wall humor, even in scary situations provide the drive which propels us forward. Walker is a pretty face and is inoffensive. Sobieski puts some nice twists on 'the chick part' but will have to broaden her range beyond young girl in danger if she wants to sustain her career. 

If you like classic suspense thrill rides, you could do a lot worse with your Cineplex dollar. 

Motel night manager abuse. Tequila shots. Missing mandible. Exploding ice truck. Flying CB radio. Naked Steve Zahn. Naked Paul Walker. No naked Leelee Sobieski. Gratuitous BMW convertible. Tire thumper. Copper pipe impalement. Gratuitous enraged sheriff. 

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