Movie Review – Joy Ride (2001)

When I first rented 2001’s Joy Ride years ago, back when video rental stores were still a thing, I did not expect much from it. Despite the mantra to not judge a book by its cover, we all do it, and the same goes for DVD covers. This one was bland and the synopsis offered nothing to distinguish it from the plethora of other terrible B-movie thrillers that have always abounded, but especially so in the 90s. I was surprised, then, at just how enjoyable and well done Joy Ride, directed by John Dahl, actually is. I have seen it several times since then, and with each viewing I grow to appreciate it more.

In an intelligent script, written by J.J. Abrams and Clay Tarver, two brothers on a cross-country road trip to pick up a girl have a moment of lapsed moral conscience and use a CB radio to play a cruel prank on a randy truck driver. However, their plan goes awry when it turns out the trucker is an unhinged maniac who does not like to be shamed, and who has a dedicated sense of vengeance. The unseen villain is clever and genuinely menacing, and is expertly voiced by an uncredited Ted Levine, whose voice still brings back flashes of Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb. The plot closely resembles and pays homage to Steven Spielberg’s first directed TV film, Duel (1971), but is certainly not a remake. Surely, there are some genre tropes, but they’re done so well you don’t mind.

Leelee Sobieski in Joy Ride.
Leelee Sobieski in Joy Ride.

What really shine in the movie, however, are the performances of the three protagonists, who carry the dialogue and tension of the scenes well. Especially noteworthy is Steve Zahn, who allows the film some comic relief and provides a nice balance to the late Paul Walker’s straight-laced character.

Joy Ride is not a classic, and the premise only allows for the plot to go so far. Nevertheless, it is a thoroughly entertaining thriller.

Grade: B-