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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Joy Ride: SE (2001)

"Now they know what it feels like to be the brunt of the joke."
- Rusty Nail (Ted Levine)

Review By: Brian Calhoun  
Published: March 11, 2002

Stars: Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, Leelee Sobieski
Other Stars: Ted Levine
Director: John Dahl

Manufacturer: Digital Video Compression Center
MPAA Rating: R for violence/terror and language
Run Time: 01h:36m:58s
Release Date: March 12, 2002
UPC: 024543036258
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-A A-

DVD Review

Alfred Hitchcock often preached about the importance of creating suspense over surprise. His logic was based on the idea that cheap surprises shock an audience for all of five seconds, while suspense draws them into a heightened state of anxiety. John Dahl's Joy Ride is one of few films in recent years to subscribe to Hitchcock's theory of suspense, and it succeeds quite admirably. It is a simple story about a presumably harmless prank turned nightmare, and relies on subtlety to work its magic. I found the style of the film so skillful, that I am now thinking twice about ever playing another practical joke.The set-up is that during a phone conversation between long time friends Lewis (Walker) and Venna (Sobieski), who are finishing their freshman year at separate colleges, Lewis offers to be her long distance chauffeur home for the summer. Feeling lucky, he tosses his non-refundable plane ticket and plunks down a significant chunk of change on a 1971 Chrysler Newport.On his drive from California to Colorado, Lewis receives word that his estranged brother, Fuller (Zahn), has been arrested. Lewis detours to Salt Lake City to bail his deadbeat brother out of jail, and bring him home. It is this portion of the road trip that effectively establishes the desolate surroundings of the West, so that when terror later takes place during pitch blackness, the audience is chillingly aware that these characters are stranded in the middle of nowhere.Incapable of avoiding trouble on the ride, Fuller buys a dilapidated CB radio and begins playing goofball antics over the airwaves. Fuller manipulates Lewis by persuading him to imitate a sexy woman's voice. "This is a prehistoric internet!" he exclaims, insisting that a CB prank is no different than messing with someone in a chat room. Using the pseudonym Candy Cane, Lewis catches the ear of an obviously lonely trucker called Rusty Nail, voiced menacingly by The Silence of the Lambs's Ted Levine.It is all innocent fun until the boys arrange a date between Rusty Nail and the fictional Candy Cane at the Lone Star Motel. In one of the film's creepiest moments, Rusty Nail encounters an obnoxious neighbor while Fuller and Lewis listen through the wall, deciphering only a jumble of disturbing vocal grunts. This implication of an unseen and unheard altercation is relentlessly well crafted. It turns out that the boys have ticked off the wrong trucker. Rusty Nail is hell bent on revenge, and the resulting mayhem will draw undeniable comparisons to Steven Spielberg's Duel, but most of Joy Ride has a life all its own. There are some wonderfully constructed twists and turns, such as a claustrophobic chase through a dimly lit cornfield, and a nail biting hotel room climax.To say all of this is a bit far-fetched would be an understatement. The fact that the filmmakers are able to suspend any and all sense of disbelief could in fact be the film's greatest accomplishment. Director John Dahl is no stranger to suspense, and he has carefully handled this material. He wisely does not focus as much on jarring his audience as he does instilling them with uneasiness and fear. Like most great suspense artists, he also enjoys toying with his audience. There are moments where he lulls the audience into a soothing sense of tranquility, right before he pulls the rug out from underneath them.Another remarkable aspect is the seamless blend of humor and suspense. Genre-meshing films are a dime a dozen, but what stands out about Joy Ride is how easily it injects humor into suspenseful moments without undermining any tension. Much of the success of this unique device can be attributed to Steve Zahn's wonderful performance. He finds a perfect balance between humor and drama without ever damaging his credibility.All of these fine attributes are why I am able to overlook the film's many inherent flaws. It is quite an achievement that Dahl and company have created a wholly engaging, credible piece of entertainment out of such a silly premise. In this day and age where horror films try to push the limits of good taste with gratuitous gore, Joy Ride is a refreshing throwback to the days of old. I know Hitchcock would have loved it.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is good enough to call beautiful, but falls short of perfection. The transfer has some difficult obstacles to overcome, such as fluorescent red lighting techniques that sometimes cause the picture to have a blooming effect. Minor chroma noise is also evident in these scenes. Some compression artifacts are noticeable, as is slight shimmering in fine details, but you would have to press your nose up to the screen to be bothered by either. Color is exemplary; the cool emerald greens and dirty warm browns form a perfect balance with one another, blending in seamlessly with the deep blacks. Overall, the image is incredibly film-like, and it is another winning transfer from 20th Century Fox.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is outstanding not only in terms of fidelity, but also in creating a heightened sense of suspense. The surround speakers are constantly utilized, creating an enormous sense of realism and spatiality. Split surrounds are highly aggressive and tastefully used even in scenes of extreme quiescence. The sound of trucks on distant highways can gently be heard from all directions, creating a chilling awareness that Rusty Nail is always in close proximity. Dynamic range is top-notch, extending from whisper quiet stillness to bursts of peak intensity. The low end is phenomenally deep and clean, with pulses below 25Hz that drove through my gut like an eighteen-wheeler. The high end screams to the top of the audio spectrum, yet never sounds shrill or unpleasant. Particularly noteworthy is the way in which the musical score has been recorded. The orchestra flows through all six channels and engulfs the viewer in a way that I have rarely heard. Anyone not listening to Joy Ride in multi-channel sound is clearly missing half of the experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
4 Alternate Endings
1 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) director John Dahl; 2) writers Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams; 3) actors Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:55m:57s

Extra Extras:
  1. More Than One Rusty Nail
  2. More Than One Joy Ride
Extras Review: While perhaps a bit heavy-handed on the commentary side, the quality and quantity of Joy Ride's special features certainly live up to the status of special edition. Starting off the multitude of extras are three feature-length commentary tracks.Commentary by director John DahlWhen I heard Dahl's opening comments dismissing commentary tracks as "drivel", I feared the worst. But when he gets going, Dahl provides many revealing comments without weakening the impact of the film. Dahl does sound a bit dry, but his comments are interesting enough to compensate any lack of energy.Commentary by J.J. Abrams and Clay TarverThis dual commentary with the writers of Joy Ride proves to be both humorous and informative. Their jovial conversation contains few gaps of silence, and they mostly discuss their inspiration for writing a suspense film instead of a horror film.Commentary by Steve Zahn and Leelee SobieskiUnlike Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams, Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski have recorded their commentaries separately. After a short introduction by Sobieski, Zahn takes over the first half of the track with his exuberant quirkiness. Zahn's commentary skills could easily be dismissed as sophomoric, since he doesn't seem to take anything he says very seriously. However, to hear him poke fun at the entire concept of commentaries is a sigh of relief after two feature-length commentaries of endless information. Any fan of his zany brand of humor will certainly get a kick out of this half of the commentary. After Zahn ends his reign of goofiness, Sobieski steps in to finish the second half of the track. She speaks maturely and intelligently throughout, although at times she sounds off as if she is an auctioneer.Deleted Scene and Alternate EndingsThis section contains a deleted scene and four alternate endings. All of the alternate endings have two optional audio commentaries with John Dahl or JJ Abrams and Clay Tarver. There is also an easter egg in this section, but I wouldn't spend too much time looking for it. The scenes are as follows:Fuller Kisses VennaMerely an expansion on an already existing scene. The extended version is even cornier than the title suggests, and its omission from the main feature is incredibly justified. This scene also has an optional audio commentary by Leelee Sobieski.Original EndingThe title Original Ending is a complete misnomer. It is in fact not an ending at all, but rather an entirely different third act of the movie! Running just under 30 minutes, this alternate chain of events shows just how much work went into retooling the script to form a more cohesive vehicle. None of what happens here is incredibly bad, but it is obvious that the final 30 minutes of the finished film are much more satisfying.First Reshoot EndingThis ending goes off on a slight tangent from the last five minutes of the theatrical version. This alternate ending is quite silly in the fact that there is too much physical interaction with the psychotic trucker. He is clearly much more ominous as a voice, and this attempt to make him more visceral borders on comic.Alt Ending: Venna Saves the DayThis is another lackluster digression from the real ending of the film that unquestionably belongs on the cutting room floor.Storyboard Alternate EndingOccasional storyboards intertwine with the live action segments from First Reshoot Ending as a clever way of conveying an idea for a fourth ending that was never filmed. The presentation of the storyboards is quite humorous; it almost looks as if someone took a camcorder and zoomed in on the pages of a comic book. I would prefer a separate storyboard section to this approach, though the idea is quite witty.Theatrical TrailerThe 1.85:1 nonanamorphic trailer is very effective, which surprises me that it did not draw more audiences to see Joy Ride in the theater. Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that, like virtually every trailer nowadays, it gives away too much.FeaturetteThis is yet another dreary behind-the-scenes piece that consists of interviews with the cast and crew, as well as a multitude of scenes from the movie. Nothing worthwhile is presented here, and I found the inclusion of this featurette to be essentially ballast.More than One Rusty NailThis appealing feature presents voice tests for three actors who auditioned for the part of Rusty Nail. Each voice is played over a finished scene from the film, and the viewer is given the choice to toggle between all three using the remote control audio button. Ted Levine is clearly the best choice for the role, as he is the only one who finds the right balance between trucker and madman. Eric Roberts sounds as if he is telling a ghost story at a slumber party, and Stephen Shellen relies too much on the whisper method.More Than One Joy RideIn the tradition of Follow the White Rabbit on The Matrix DVD, this section presents pop-up icons scattered throughout the main feature. When selected, these icons allow the viewer to access one of the alternate scenes within the context of the film. This is a nice idea in theory, but due to the poor audio and video quality of the deleted scenes it fails miserably. The only people who might enjoy this attempt at seamless branching are those watching a 13-inch television with a 1-inch speaker.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

In the tradition of the greatest suspense films, Joy Ride proves that it does not take an inflated budget or superfluous gimmicks to scare the pants off of an audience. Boasting a bevy of interesting extras and a near flawless 5.1 audio mix, this is a ride well worth taking.Highly Recommended


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