"Joy Ride" promises decent thrills when it departs from its "Duel"-like structure and changes gears midstream, with the trucker doing something more than chasing the boys. Just as the movie reveals some subtlety, though, Dahl and his screenwriters revert back to cheap thrills, with a bit of sadism thrown in for good measure. The film's final scenes are simply a loud mess, with logic and believability thrown out the window, before the movie winds down with a tinny "ironic" ending. Lost in the mayhem are the good performances of Zahn, likable as the fun-loving screw-up in way over his head, and Sobieski, whose character reveals an interesting toughness. But characterization is not what Dahl & Co. are interested in, and that soon disappears amid the film's empty pyrotechnics. Starring Steve Zahn, Paul Walker and Leelee Sobieski. Directed by John Dahl. Written by Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams. Produced by J.J. Abrams and Chris Moore. A Fox release. Drama. Rated R for violence/terror and language. Running time: 97 min
Cribbing liberally from Steven Spielberg's "Duel," John Dahl's "Joy Ride" offers a ride but not much joy in its overdone story of two brothers who attract the attention of a homicidal trucker. Lewis Thomas (Paul Walker) just wants to kindle a romantic relationship with longtime crush Venna (Leelee Sobieski) by going cross country to pick her up from college. But, when he decides to detour to retrieve his ne'er-do-well brother, Fuller (Steve Zahn), who has just gotten out of jail, events suddenly get out of hand. Fuller persuades Lewis to play a practical joke on a trucker they've communicated with via CB radio, but a harmless prank soon escalates into a dire situation with the trucker threatening their lives. Director John Dahl ("Red Rock West," "The Last Seduction") has always liked the thriller/noir territory he's traveling here, but he's never done it well. His obvious, manipulative direction is just part of the problem: Not trusting the story is the biggest sin.