Joy Ride

Be a girl
Released:
2001

Director: John Dahl

Starring: Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, Leelee Sobieski

The Setup:

Two brothers play a prank on a trucker who doesn't find it so funny.

Discussion:

I was not interested in this movie when it came out and hadn't been able to generate any interest in it over the years, but then my ex's new boyfriend mentioned that it had a whole big homo theme to it, so it went straight to the top of my list. And it turns out it does! But I think it's a little less than he thinks.

We open with Paul Walker as Lewis talking on the phone to Leelee Sobieski. Remember her? Paul is obviously way into her, so when she says she wishes that someone would come pick her up and drive her home, he says he just bought a car and will pick her up. Turns out he didn't, but he runs out and buys one the next morning. Oh, by the way, during the credits we've noticed that this is co-written by J.J. Abrams.

So Lewis calls home—like a fool, more proof that you should never call your parents before a trip—and his mother guilt-trips him into diverting to go pick up his brother Fuller, played by Steve Zahn, who has been arrested, and not for the first time. Fuller is very affectionate with Lewis upon learning that he's come to pick him up, stroking his face and squeezing his cheeks. Fuller invites himself along for the rest of the trip, to Lewis' dismay.

Right off the bat Fuller is an interesting character, and Zahn is an inspired choice to play him. He's your typical sociopath and grifter, as you might guess from his prison history, but his every line and decision here also supports that. First he pisses Lewis off by insisting that he must just want to fuck Venna—that's Leelee. And… Venna? I mean... the name? Anyway, he won't lay off until Lewis drives off the road to make a point, at which point Fuller says "Uh, did you need me to drive?" The reason I think Zahn was such a great choice here is that his typical humor and off-kilter line readings acquire a very sinister edge here, and it's a nice change. Anyway, he buys a CB radio, and wants Lewis to pretend to be a woman. The homoerotic undercurrent to their relationship, first noticed when Fuller squeezed Lewis' cheeks, comes to the fore during this stunt, in which Fuller begs Lewis to "be a girl" and initially gives him the CB handle "Mama's boy." You'll also notice that Fuller's urgings are punctuated with quick "joking" punches, making him come off overall as quite a scary character. Unfortunately all of this is only used to set up the situation, then summarily dropped.

So Lewis gets ahold of a trucker who goes by the name Rusty Nail and pretends to be a woman named Candy Cane. The homo-ness continues as he goes through this whole seduction scene as Candy, to the point where Fuller says "this is turning ME on." So it goes for a while, then they drop it. That night at a motel Fuller sees a guy in the office delivering a racist rant to the clerk, and who shoves him on the way out. Meanwhile Rusty Nail is back on the CB looking for Candy Cane. Fuller wants to "get revenge" on "that asshole" by telling Rusty Nail that Candy Cane will be waiting in the asshole's room. Once the scenario is arranged, Lewis says "that was mean," and Fuller says "I know! This is awesome!"

SPOILERS > > >
So around midnight [the appointed time] they hear someone arrive next door and stand listening next to this big painting of a ship on a moonlit sea. For some reason we close-up on the ship and have lightning effects as though the painting has come to life. During this time we are apparently hearing the sounds of someone being beaten next door, but I didn't notice at first because I was trying to figure out why we're staring at this ship in such detail. After some other creepiness, the next day they find out that the "asshole" was found face-down in the middle of the highway, in a coma, his lower jaw ripped off. They then get screamed at by a cop for being idiots, but none of this gets through to Fuller, who cares about nothing and takes no responsibility for anything he does because his personal philosophy is that regardless of his own actions, "I'll be dead in 100 years."

Soon they hear the trucker's voice again, and he ties the two of them to the whole Candy Cane thing. Lewis explains that it was all a prank, and the trucker demands that they apologize, but before he can, Fuller grabs the radio and unleashes a snide and mocking tirade, calling the guy a sick fuck. Then they notice the truck behind them! And the fact that they're almost out of gas! So these are the kind of tension scenes we're going to have—not really surprising, not really clever, but clever enough, and done well. This leads to the first of many chases that I won't spoil for you. One good thing about the way this movie is done is that it makes you paranoid about every truck on the road. Anyway, after the first confrontation is over, they pretty much think the trucker is going to lay off, and Fuller throws the CB out the window. Oh, by the way, I didn't notice this, but apparently the color of the lights on the CB radio purposely change throughout the movie—look for it.

So they go pick up Venna, but don't tell her anything about the trucker. They get drunk that night, and Fuller, in classic fashion, asks Lewis if he'd mind if Fuller came on to Venna—while Lewis is asleep. While they're out, Lewis gets a call from the trucker! He knows they're there, he knows they're brothers, he knows they've got a girl! So they take off in the car, but it's not long before they get a message to look in the trunk, and find the CB radio placed back there. The next day the trucker makes them do something that may be of special interest to many out there, as it offers extended coverage of Walker and Zahn naked. We don't see the goodies, but there is much sunset coverage of their asses. Eventually it leads to the middle of a road, where the truck turns around, and our trio stand in the middle of the road going "What's he doing? He's not slowing down!" when obviously they should be running! Idiots. Then the truck chases them through this cornfield, and they're running in this inexplicable two-feet-deep trough with the truck coming straight on after them, and obviously all they have to do is run to one side and if the truck tried to follow them, its wheels would get stuck in the trough. But that wasn't in the script.
SPOILERS END > > >

Then there's a whole climax that I won't even go into, but is built around a kind of tension that I found rather distasteful. Adding to this is the fact that it's based around something that'll happen when a certain door is opened, and the director engages in a lot of indirection, making us think this is the door, but it's not, no, THIS is the door—about five times, until it becomes quite irritating. I found the ending a little annoying and, when you think about it, there's not really an ending at all. So that was a bit of a bummer. BUT! Turns out this was the re-shot ending! And not only is the original ending included on the DVD, but it's 30 minutes long! It begins at the point where I mentioned the nakedness, and diverts from there. It's a little interesting to see a movie go in a markedly different direction from such an early point, but I'm afraid what we're left with isn't that much more interesting. There are two other alternate endings on the DVD, but I didn't watch them.

It started very strong and had a good setup and characters, but it just wasn't able to sustain its momentum. Which is not that big a problem, as most of the issues don't catch up with it until after it's over. For example, how does the trucker come to know so much about them—and Venna's roommate? How can he be painting signs in front of them—and know which roads they're going to take—and be on their trail the whole time? A particular disappointment to me was that the homoerotic undercurrent wasn't followed through and paid off. The whole sheen of homoeroticism between Fuller and Lewis was just dropped and not paid off at all. I didn't really see the homo overtones of the original prank as being paid off, either—it seems like the trucker was just pissed that the guys toyed with him—but my ex's BF interprets the entire movie as an extended episode of gay panic over the fact that the trucker went to the hotel expecting a hot woman and got a big dude. So, take that as you may. I was also expecting that Fuller would get the kind of comeuppance one would expect and it feels like he deserves, but no. So for me it seems like the movie built up a lot of interesting character stuff and situations, then just dropped them in favor of more chase scenes. I was really hoping the original ending would replace some of the thematic payoffs I had expected from the movie, but no, it's virtually interchangeable.

So ultimately, good enough, but not nearly as good as its first half-hour promised. It'll entertain you, then maybe annoy you a little bit the more you think about it afterward. If only it had not just an alternate ending, but an alternate middle, too.

Should you watch it?

It's not bad, but doesn't live up to its potential and seems a little lame afterward.

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