*½/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B
starring Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Matthew Kimbrough
screenplay by Clay Tarver & JJ Abrams
directed by John Dahl
by Walter Chaw John Dahl's latest foray into knock-off B-movie territory is Joy Ride, a film that indulges an awkward dedication to hiding the face of its villain (which results in the biggest cheat of the film at its conclusion), presents predictably misogynistic victimizations for both of its female characters (followed by weak-wristed salvations), and demands an ironclad suspension of disbelief that the bad guy is omniscient, omnipresent, and only ruthless when there isn't a long speech to be made. The joyless Joy Ride is a leaden collection of cheap thriller clichés redolent with the flop-sweat stench of stale desperation and clumsy sleight-of-hand, a stultifying series of promising set-ups with threadbare pay-offs. The film drives home its cautionary message against childishness with an increasing immaturity--it's the equivalent of burying a toddler up to the neck for throwing a tantrum, and though it will predictably (and fairly) be compared against The Hitcher and Duel, the most telling stolen moment in Joy Ride is a cornfield intrigue that substitutes the evil crop duster from North by Northwest for a rumbling semi tractor-trailer that somehow locates its prey in the dead of night amongst concealing stalks.