2001, US, Directed by John Dahl
Colour, Running Time: 95 minutes
BBC3 Broadcast, 1.78:1, English Dolby Stereo soundtrack
Better known as Joy Ride in the US (renamed here due to the British connotations of that name with crime) this appears to be a fairly conventional modern slasher type of story. Lewis is about to fly back home when he decides to buy a car and road-trip it instead, mainly to impress the girl he likes who probably places more value on a guy’s vehicular habits than she does on his integrity as a human being. On the way back he picks up his irritating brother Fuller who’s just been released from gaol, sorry - jail, after which they proceed to play a prank on a trucker via CB after Fuller is offended by one of the arguing inhabitants at a hotel they stop by. Pretending to be a nubile young chick Lewis arranges to for his fictitious female persona to meet the trucker at the room the angry inhabitant is staying, hoping to get their own back on the guy whilst simultaneously acquiring a bit of fun. What they don’t anticipate is the trucker turning up at this guy’s room (which is next to theirs), some sort of trouble occurring (an especially well orchestrated sequence where we see almost nothing but hear enough to know something‘s very wrong) and the guy ending up in a coma with his jaw ripped clean off. After being questioned by the police the brothers are hurried out of town with seemingly nothing more than a guilty conscience. But then the persistent and relentlessly psychotic trucker seems to be in pursuit of them, thus initiating a chase that becomes increasingly threatening and potentially homicidal.
Obviously bearing similarities to films like The Hitcher and Duel, there is something inherently limited about a plot such as this - psychotic trucker becomes offended by the prank of a couple of teenagers, psychotic trucker relentlessly pursues them at the expense of everything, presumably with the intention of wiping them off the face of the Earth. And deservedly so in the case of Fuller, one of those grating American teens that you find in all slasher films nowadays, though this is not strictly a slasher of course. Lewis (Paul Walker) is reasonably likeable and assists in holding attention by having dual characteristics, someone who is out for a laugh while encouraged by his wayward brother, but possessing nagging moral instincts that repeatedly suggest to him that what they’re doing isn’t entirely right. Of course they soon realise the error of their ways but that comes a little too late as they’re illogically unable to shake their pursuer. Along the trip they pick up Fuller’s girl (Leelee Sobieski, now a little more grown up from her role in Deep Impact, and all the hotter for it) and she’s dragged into the equation involuntarily, attempting in vain to bring some sanity to the proceedings. It’s a very well shot film, and especially well edited leading to a thrilling climax, but the holes are plentiful and impossibilities are difficult to ignore (the trucker must have some sort of tracking device on these people as well as records of their personal lives to maintain his ‘game’ to this level). But I suppose this is a film where it’s better to disengage the cranium contents and the first half in particular creates tangible atmosphere. In that respect there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours.
BBC3’s broadcast looked fantastic though they presented a visually modified version of the film at 1.78:1. I’ve previously seen the DVD and this is a small shame because the images are perfected to a point where this is a very good looking piece of work in its original 2.35:1 ratio. For fans the one to go for is the special edition DVD released on region 1 in 2005. Providing some moments of tension but refusing to step into areas of significant originality, Road Kill/Joy Ride may offer a moderate supply of entertainment for the evening but is highly unlikely to be remembered as a genre landmark.