"We're gonna borrow it for a little joy ride, which is guaranteed fun!
I mean, 'joy' is built right into that sentence!"
Bad things come in threes, so just in case you didn't get enough of Fox's awful direct-to-video "UNRATED!" sequels (each packaged in the same "scary" burnt brown tones) of inspired horror films, along comes Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead to waste more of your time. It follows in the footsteps of The Hills Have Eyes 2, the sequel to the chilling 2006 remake (it ran in theaters, but let's face it--it's a direct-to-video disaster in disguise); and the uninspired, similarly titled Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, the sequel to the fabulous 2003 ode to gritty 1970s horror.
When looked at as a direct-to-video entry, Joy Ride 2 impresses with its look and feel--with a few talented actors and decent production values, it's close to faking a theatrical attitude. It's one of the higher quality cheapies you'll come across, and far better than most other DTV horror films. But that's not saying much--and when compared to truly inspired genre efforts like the original, it's just another cloned sheep in wolf's clothing.
Just like Fox's other two sequel stinkers, Joy Ride 2 borrows heavily from its inspiration--the surprise 2001 hit from director John Dahl (from a script co-written by J.J. Abrams) with Steve Zahn, Paul Walker and Leelee Sobieski. The original was a fun trip that relied on likeable characters and slow-building suspense to engage and spook you, creating scenarios where you actually bit your nails hoping the trio survived. That's not the case here, as a cheap blood-and-guts show eventually hijacks the already-weak sequel.
Melissa (Nicki Aycox) and fiancé Bobby (Nick Zano, to be seen in next year's Final Destination 4) are headed to Vegas for some pre-wedding partying. Tagging along is Mel's sister Kayla (Laura Jordan), who has them pick up her online boyfriend Nik (Kyle Schmid)--a wannabe punk/alterna-boy slacker--on the way. When their '83 Chevy Caprice wagon breaks down, the gang finds an abandoned house along a side road in the desert. They decide to "borrow" the '71 Chevelle they find in the garage to finish their trip, but Mel leaves a note because she's such a sweet gal.
While the four are eating at a diner, Bobby never returns from the bathroom--and Mel gets a phone call from Rusty Nail, the gravelly voiced trucker terrorist from the original. In order to save Bobby (gagged with a remarkably loose cloth that renders him surprisingly mute), the three must follow Rusty's orders, barked out from a CB in the Chevelle (Mel is coined "Goldilocks", this version's Candy Cane). After being forced to destroy their cell phones, the three bears are suddenly at the trucker's mercy. From here, the film continues to copy heavily from the original, including putting the gang through humiliating situations for mere sport and commanding them to open the trunk and glove compartment. Joy Ride 2 gives us the finger even harder by nodding at The Hitcher and (can you believe it) Rebel Without a Cause (!).
Joy Ride 2 is a weak copy, borrowing just enough from the original to make it completely predictable--and taking every other wrong turn to make it nearly unbearable. Most of the main cast can act--Aycock (too good for this film) and Zano do a fine job with what they're given, but Nik is written (and performed) so annoyingly, you'll want him to get nailed immediately--while Kayla's amused attitude at his awful antics makes her equally loathsome.
The film also shows too much of Rusty (mostly in dim lighting), lessening his impact as a spooky presence. His voice also sounds too removed here--it's no where near as creepy as the performance of the talented Ted Levine (the voice in the original). Rusty's rig is equally unimpressive--unlike the menacing presence in the original, it comes across more comical here (the repeated "smoky ears" bit is straight out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon) in an attempt to make the truck its own character.
As the film progresses, the intended scary parts rely too much on tired genre devices, like a torture scene and other gory sequences you can see coming a mile away. For the most part, the gore can't overcome the film's modest budget to truly disgust you (a problem Wrong Turn 2 also suffered), forcing the script to sometimes try and make up for it with stupid zingers (like after a kill copied from the original!): "Hey, did you see the way his jaw dropped?"
Director Louis Morneau--who mined similar territory in DTV entry The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting--relies on clichéd shots that remove any sense of suspense (you'll easily guess the punch line to the strip tease scene). I also had to rewind a car flip sequence that seems to ignore the laws of physics, and the ending (followed by the requisite epilogue "cliffhanger") is a lame sequence made all the more tame by sudden daylight. As for the opening kill, couldn't she have just ducked?!
The script is also a mess: When Mel falls for Rusty's semantics ("You do what I say, I promise you'll see him again"), you'll want to strangle her. Even worse, it's littered with painfully placed references to "hip" trends in an effort to appeal to the young crowd, like some old timer found a list of "cool stuff" and randomly inserted them into the screenplay, resulting in awkward dialogue: "He's not a serial killer! Trust me...I googled his name and everything!" Also getting shout-outs are MySpace, YouTube, Grand Theft Auto, Punk'd and Rage Against the Machine (and those were just the ones I remembered). And are you kidding me with that ridiculous mortuary scene?! (Who knew it was so easy to just walk into one of those!)
Do yourself a favor and just watch the original again...and brace yourself for the inevitable next year: Identity 2: The Do-Not-Disturb Dead by Dawn Special Unrated Edition.
Fox supplied a screener disc for this review, so it's best to avoid a final verdict on the anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. There's a gritty look to the image, similar to The Hills Have Eyes films, which may explain the grain.
Ditto for the 5.1 surround track, also available in French and Spanish Dolby Surround options. Subtitles are also available in English and Spanish.
A few short features lead the way: Joy Ride 2: The Making of Dead Ahead (13:39) features brief interviews with the main cast (and Rusty Nail, still in character), along with director Louis Morneau (who says he was a fan of the original), producer Connie Dolphin and other crew members. "It's a little bit more modern: There's a lot of ideas of being mentally tortured as well as physically tortured," notes Nicki Aycox--an observation I don't agree with, unless the MySpace reference makes it "modern."
The segment has a little plot recitation, and also covers one car-flipping sequence--and the cold Canadian shoot in British Columbia, accompanied by the cast bonding with the small-town locals: "People who really live in the middle of nowhere are funny!" says Laura Jordan with sincerity, and a laugh. "And interesting, and (that) really added to, I think, our experience." Aww...how, um...insulting!
Blood and Guts: The Make-up of Horror (7:10) mostly talks with make-up supervisor Christopher Mark Pinhey, who shares some of the quick shoot's secrets--along with Nick Zano and Kyle Schmid, who share their pain. Also included is a Storyboard-to-Scene Comparison (3:00) for Scene 118, along with trailers for other releases.
Compared to other direct-to-video horror films, Joy Ride 2 has a lot going for it--and it almost gets away with its faked theatrical feel. But compared to truly inspiring thrillers, it's just another unoriginal, predictable knock off, a cloned sheep in wolf's clothing. Unless you're a diehard horror whore, do yourself a favor and just watch the far-superior original again. Skip It.