Delays. Lots of them. That's what the genre pictures Joy Ride and Soul Survivors (2001, 85 minutes) share in common. Studio suits wringing their hands. Hauling random groups of yahoos off the street to watch various incarnations of the films to determine what currently passes for entertainment. Passes is right. Not too this, not too that. Average date-movie material with enough stingers to create a cranium-rattling trailer. That'll put hineys in seats. Well, so does good cinema, but with millions of dollars being thrown at the screen there ain't no room for career-ending "creativity." The late great comedian, social commentator and fellow Texan Bill Hicks once lamented that it was focus groups who put the kibosh on the lesbian sex scenes in Basic Instinct, because THEY were TURNED OFF by them!!! Mr. Hicks suggested if he'd been at the screening, Michael Douglas would demand that HIS part be put BACK in. Ten years later, nothing's changed. If anything it's gotten worse, as evidenced by the slip 'n' slide theatrical release dates of these two flicks. At the very least Soul Survivors regained its teeth with a "Killer Cut" after being slashed for the financially coveted PG-13 rating, but Fox had the nerve to spin its Wheel of Endings as a super-cool "BONUS!" Why not throw in the corporate shackles worn by the filmmakers as well?
The movie: Everything about this reeks of another murder-by-numbers teen slasher, but it ain't. Heartthrobs Sean (Casey Affleck) and Matt (Wes Bentley) are both gaga for a fussy blonde named Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller). Bentley is the ex-boyfriend with the faraway look in the eye of a mental patient. Affleck is the dutiful beau easily led around by his nethers. While Annabel (Eliza Dushku) is there to jiggle and look "edgy." As so many ill-fated college freshmen do, the four's double-date winds up at a godless all-night rave at the nearest condemned Catholic church. Pale dancers slap against each other in a whirlwind of sweat, leather and saliva while goth rock assaults their senses. Clearly, this was Annabel's idea. Outside, Cassie and Matt reminisce about old times by snaking their tongues down each other's throats. This is distressing to Sean, but before Cassie can reconcile with him, all four careen off the highway in a bone-crushing car crash -- killing Sean instantly and landing Cassie in Guilt City. After a couple weeks, Matt and Annabel convince her to return to college and lay a new foundation for her life. Matt, of course, hopes to do some laying of his own. Annabel doesn't much mind, because she's spending a lot of time with her new psychic friend called Raven (Angela Featherstone). Stuff ain't right, though. Cassie got a big knock to the brainpan in the crash and she's still dingy from it. Occasionally, blood even spigots from her nostrils. She also sees icky stuff like Satanists who chase her around campus, or wakes to find her dead beau has stopped in from the afterlife for a booty call. One's never sure if she's out of her gourd, or what that runty guy in the transparent mask is up to. Something unpleasant, no doubt. Once the credits roll, though, it's clear this isn't your typical cookie-cutter, teen-ensemble horror flick. CineSchlockers will recognize doe-eyed, but square-jawed Luke Wilson as a hey-man-it's-cool priest who befriends troubled little Cassie. His feature debut was as an utterly failed thief in Bottle Rocket, which more than makes up for his later participation in Scream 2.
Notables: Two breasts. Five corpses. Slightly erotic paint fight followed by a gratuitous shower scene. Techno chase sequence. Florescent bulb to the tummy. Stuffed animal abuse. Zombie cops. Lesbian tongue rasslin'. Ghostly diddling. Handsy priest.
Quotables: Cassie telegraphs the impending doom within her circle of friends, "We have our whole lives ahead of us, right?!" Later, she angrily lets fly with the ONLY pop-culture reference of the flick, "Go back to the Addam's Family!!!"
Time codes: Ms. Dushku's cleavage bounds across the screen (8:52). Seriously out of control nose bleed (32:55). Cassie has one of THOSE dreams (41:55). Annabel and Raven engage in some not so PG-13 friendly activities at the library (46:26).
Audio/Video: Generally faultless widescreen (1.85:1) transfer. Dolby Digital 5.1 track shines during the rave and car crash scenes. There's also a 2.0 track.
Extras: Given the cover art favors Ms. Dushku's plunging bust line, while plunking the film's actual heroine behind her supporting cast, it's nice that poor Melissa is at least afforded the dignity of recording an audio commentary. Well, almost. Chipper Ms. Sagemiller only opines on selected scenes, and maddeningly, each must be screened individually. Form is often valued over function in multimedia design, yet overall the look and feel of these motion video menus are nicely suited to the flick. There's a neat gimmick where viewers are confronted with a choice between three paths: Reality, Dream and Nightmare with each option producing a unique video transition and main menu. Look for the Easter egg under Setup to explore each without restarting. Four minutes of deleted scenes, including one with the classic "pregnancy" plot twist. Bizarro ode to This Is Spinal Tap featuring the band Harvey Danger (10 mins). Brief "making of" featurette. Animated storyboards for three scenes. Cast bios. Production notes.
Final thought: When it crawls, it does so with the velocity of a garden snail. But unlike many, yours truly was genuinely suckered in by the final reel. Despite considerable cynical resistance. Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.