Film Reviews:

Road Kill

aka Joy Ride

(John Dahl, US, 2002)

An tense efficient thriller, this never really convinces as anything other than a somewhat cynical machine for generating tension, but it does that very well.

Student Lewis Thomas (Paul Walker) sets off to pick up pretty friend Venna (Leelee Sobieski) whom he hopes may be willing to become his girlfriend, in order to give her a ride home from college. En route, he bails out his drunk and disorderly brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) from jail, and they carry on to get the girl. The contrast between the two brothers is nicely done, with the first being a handsome goody-goody, while the other is more ordinary looking, but with more character, and a desire to always live on the edge. They get a CB radio, which Fuller plays with, giving himself the handle Black Sheep, whilst dubbing Lewis Mommas Boy, names that pretty much sum them both up nicely. While this contrast is pretty basic, it works like a charm.

Fuller then decides to tease Rusty Nail, a weird sounding trucker, who he hears talking nonsense over the air, and persuades Lewis to put on a high pitched girlish voice, to seduce Rusty in the guise of Candy Cane. After luring Nail to a motel room, the prank back-fires, as the trucker brutally attacks the rooms occupant. After a pursuit, Mr. Nail extracts a terrified apology from the boys, and it seems honour has been satisfied. But then they pick up Venna, and the terror resumes, as Rusty thinks he's found his elusive Candy Cane...

Although the characters are basically shallow, nevertheless they are likeable, and their actions are always convincing. Fuller's bad boy character creates lots of problems, whilst Lewis insistence on doing everything the legal way also exacerbates matters. Rusty Nail is a mixture of the truck driver from Duel, and The Hitcher, mixing attacks by giant truck with kidnapping and setting traps.

Nothing he puts the characters through is original, but the script, co-written by Alias creator J. J. Abrams, gets the best out of each scene, not moving on until the tension has been effectively built up to an unbearable pitch. John Dahl's direction is excellent, strongly visual, and makes full use of widescreen framing. The cast are good, especially Steve Zahn, although Paul Walker struggles to act convincingly drunk.

Like a fairground ride, Road Kill is basically a device to make your heart beat fast. There's no message, except perhaps don't make fun of weirdo country boys, but surely every moviegoer in the world knows that one by now. A miss at the cinema, this lacks the kind of invention that would make it a cult classic, but it is nevertheless great fun, and infinitely better than it's boring cover design suggests.

Adrian Horrocks

See also:

The Hitcher

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