Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, Leelee Sobieski
Director: John Dahl
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: March 12, 2002

“You know, Black Sheep…you really ought to get that fixed.”


“Your taillight.”

Film ***1/2

A few years ago, when I saw Kurt Russell’s desert-based thriller Breakdown, I thought I would never see a more terrifying movie that could scare me enough to never wanting to take a trip on the open road. I was so proven wrong when I watched Joy Ride, a superior piece of entertainment that in my opinion defines the suspense genre. The movie is one of the most terrifyingly suspenseful movies I’ve seen in a long time, yet there’s hardly any graphic violence or gore. It has a menace of a villain, whose face is never seen but is just heard through a CB radio. All the movie needs to merit tension is the highway setting to prey on some victims. The result is that of a pure heart-pounding white knuckle ride.


The movie stars Paul Walker, fresh from his recent hit The Fast and the Furious, as Lewis, a college chum who is happy to discover that his longtime best friend/secret crush, Venna (Leelee Sobieski), has just dumped her boyfriend. Lewis is in California, while Venna schools in Boulder, Co., and when she pops the idea of him picking her up for an adventurous drive home east for the holidays. Lewis quickly refunds his airline ticket in order to purchase a car of his own to surprise Venna with. He selects a used 1971 Chrysler Newport, and heads off to Boulder. Lewis encounters a slight detour when he gets word from his mother that his older brother, Fuller (Steve Zahn), has just been arrested for public drunkenness, and is being held in Salt Lake City. Since it’s on the way to Boulder, Lewis decides to do a good deed and get Fuller released. The two brothers agree that when they reach home, Fuller will reconcile with the folks at home.


Later, at a highway stop, Fuller gets a CB radio installed in the car for a decent price. When back on the road Fuller, who has a history of unintentionally attracting trouble, decides to have a little fun over the CB. He then eggs Lewis into impersonating a female, attracting the quick attention of a truck driver. Lewis, referring to himself as Candy Cane, sets up a meeting with the trucker, who calls himself Rusty Nail. The two then decide to play a prank on the person rooming next door to them at a roadside motel, as part revenge for getting ugly with Fuller at the motel lobby. In a remarkably structured scene, Lewis and Fuller listen quietly to the commotion next door when Rusty Nail arrives. They don’t quite know what to make of the situation, especially after hearing what sounds like a brief struggle, followed by sudden silence. The next morning, they are awaken by the cops, who inform them that their alleged prank victim was found on the highway. He now lies in the hospital in a coma, with his lower jaw ripped off.


What follows is an endless series of white knuckle and suspenseful action scenes, as Rusty terrorizes the two brothers before and after they arrive at Boulder to pick up Venna. The road of terror grows even more horrific while during a heart-stopping chase through a corn field, the trucker snatches Venna as a hostage. This leads to a finale involving Rusty Nail’s personalized meet-up at a motel, and I have honestly never experienced a more chilling, terrifying, and truly hear-in-the-throat sequence like the showdown at the end of this movie. I won’t go into much detail except that Rusty Nail sets up a nasty trap for Lewis and Fuller. It’s a striking moment that will not be easy to predict the outcome of.  


Joy Ride is an expertly made piece every step of the way. Directed with immense skill by John Dahl (Rounders, Red Rock West), and very well acted by the three leads, particularly Steve Zahn, who brilliantly combines both seriousness and goofiness, this is one ride that I beg you not to pass up.

Video ***1/2

A most decent offering from Fox, whose high points in the presentation come truly in the key suspenseful numbers in the movie. The anamorphic transfer renders quite well, most particularly in two darkly lit scenes which both ignite with tremendous looking colors; one in a car which illumes with nice red lighting, and another in a motel room which renders with a cool light green. The numerous outdoor sequences transfer nicely, as well. The only flaw I noticed in the presentation is a couple of darkly lit scenes that appear a bit soft around the edges. Other than that, a most top notch presentation.

Audio ****

Movies like Joy Ride are why I love the DVD experience! The movie contains a number of scenes that will make you jump, and Fox has applied the 5.1 audio mix to perfect use to enhance that aspect of the movie. Front and rear channels pick up especially good, and the side channels perform exceptionally well in scenes set on the highway. Even the chilling sound of Rusty Nail’s voice over the CB is heard in a knockout form. All of the action set pieces kick in nicely as well, in addition to the sensational suspenseful score. Fox once again illustrates their DVD genius with this release.

Features ****

Fox almost always never leaves a disc empty, and Joy Ride is definitive proof of that. This loaded disc contains a knockout array of extras, including a grand total of four alternate endings (one of which is actually an altered 29 minute closing to the picture) all of which contain optional commentary by John Dahl, three commentaries; one by John Dahl, one by stars Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski, and one by writers Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams. The disc also includes two extended branching options, voice auditions for Rusty Nail, a deleted scene, a making of featurette, and a trailer. Wonderfully packaged!


Joy Ride is definitive popcorn entertainment at its hardcore best. A fast paced 90 minutes filled with nonstop tension and suspense, with a killer finish, not to mention a disc that is truly worth the bread!