Joy Ride (2001)

(In theaters, October 2001) “Teen thrillers” are, nowadays, little more than marketing exercises, usually casting young stars from TV shows in order to service an unimaginative script helmed by a barely-competent director. The clearance shelves of every video store are filled with the results: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, The In Crowd, Antitrust, etc… In this context comes Joy Ride, a teen thriller that’s not without similarities with other members of the breed, but that at least manages to be better than average. Not a lot of that quality comes from the acting, though: Paul Walker is fine but bland and Leelee Sobieski looks cute but bored, though Steve Zahn continues to excel in otherwise average roles (see Out Of Sight, etc.) The first half of Joy Ride is strictly routine, as two idiot teens make a mistake and pay for it. The fun begins as the tale twists slightly and then some more; nothing to make the jaded viewer scream out “Genius!”, but enough to keep the tension going effectively. That tension, carefully milked by a director who knows what he’s doing, is ultimately what keeps the film from sliding into silliness as the going-ons get progressively more unlikely. Once again, the unseen antagonist proves to be nearly-omniscient and quasi-omnipotent against all common sense. There’s not much identification with the characters, but at least the film succeeds in keeping our interest. As suggested previously, that alone places it as an above-average teen thriller.

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