Written and Directed by: Declan O'Brien
Starring: Kirsten Prout, Ken Kirzinger, and Dean Armstrong
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“You have to pay for what you did."
Say what you want about the original Joy Ride, but I watched the hell out of it back when it was released on VHS. I suspect many others did as well, which probably explains how it’s inexplicably spawned into a franchise. Granted, it’s only limped on via a couple of infrequent direct-to-video follow-ups, but that’s still better than some films get (well, unless they’re housed at 20th Century Fox, in which case there’s a good chance they’ll get a new lease on life via home video). Arriving six years after the previous entry, Joy Ride 3: Roadkill continues the exploits of Rusty Nail, the indomitable, enigmatic slasher from the first two films.
You might consider him to be one of the more bewildering horror villains of our time because he’s just a trucker, but here’s the thing about that: truckers are terrifying. I just assume most of them are hiding homicidal tendencies beneath the brim of their caps, and anyone who spends for than time than necessary at a truck stop is asking for trouble. And I can say that sort of thing because my dad was a trucker during most of the 80s.
At any rate, Ol’ Rusty is up to the same stuff here in Roadkill, just patrolling the roads, carrying his loads, and slaughtering people on the side. A prologue finds him crossing paths with a couple of tweakers looking to score some crystal meth. Considering the two break the cardinal slasher rules within a minute of the film’s opening by screwing their heads off in a druggy haze, you can imagine how the encounter ends. The focus then turns to our next batch of fresh meat in the form of a racing team looking to hit it big on the Canadian circuit. On their way to the big race, the team runs afoul of Rusty and unwittingly ignites another demented game of cat and mouse when the deranged trucker kidnaps the lead driver’s girlfriend.
Call me cynical, but I think Fox is stretching the integrity of the Joy Ride brand name a bit. I say that not because Roadkill is terrible (it’s a functional slasher) but because it’s pretty far removed from the original film in spirit. When Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams (I like to think it was his contributions to Joy Ride that landed him that Star Wars gig) crafted the first film, it was an obvious tribute to the likes of Duel and Road Games, a couple of pure, white-knuckle thrillers with strong characters at the center. On the other hand, this and the preceding sequel are little more than splatter flicks; it’s as if the only thing the follow-ups took away from the original film was the climax involving that rigged shotgun in the hotel room.
As such, Rusty Nail has essentially become a Jigsaw clone who conjures up elaborate death traps for his victims. The emphasis here has shifted to over-the-top splatter and gore effects—not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, especially when it’s mostly practical and delightful to behold. Rusty scrounges up some inventive eviscerations this time around and impressively skewers body parts all over the road. Even though it feels like the deleted scene from a Saw sequel, his run-in with the meth-heads is particularly memorable, and I almost wish the film were exactly like that: dispensed with all pretenses and just completely given over to inexorable, loony violence.
Instead, the film keeps up the faintest of pretenses by presuming audiences will care about victims that are given only cursory development. Hell, I’m not even sure half the race team even qualifies as slasher movie clichés—they’re just sort of there. Emerging as the leads are the hot-shot nice guy (Ben Hollingsworth), his girlfriend (Kristen Prout), and the careless dickhead (Jesse Hutch) that mixes them up with Rusty in the first place, but at no point do they feel like anything more than inevitable fodder. Rooting for them is even difficult since they’re so devoid of charisma and practically invite their own doom when they completely ignore the warnings of the film’s resident Crazy Ralph, a raving diner dweller who insists the kids keep away from Highway 17 (aka Slaughter Alley). Naturally, they make a bee-line for the place, thus sealing their fates and ensuring that Joy Ride 3 is an unabashed, dumb slasher flick where I’m inclined to side with the psychopath.
Speaking of whom, Rusty Nail still hasn’t recaptured his old voice, which is to say Ted Levine didn’t return to the voice booth again for this sequel. This time out, Rusty’s played by Ken Kirzinger and obviously so at some points –I think we get more glimpses at his face than ever before. Call me crazy, but I think it was a bit of a letdown to reveal that Rusty Nail has just been a Canadian stuntman all this time. If nothing else, the voice here is closer to Levine’s and is dialed back from the overdone southern drawl being put on in the second film. You really miss that iconic, gravelly crooning, though—if there’s one thing I vividly remember about the first one, it’s that menacing “caaaaaandy cane” bit, and I haven’t seen that film in a decade. I don’t know if I’ll remember much about Joy Ride 3 by the end of the month.
Again, it’s not so much that Joy Ride 3 doesn’t aspire to be much more than a dumb slasher (some of my best friends are dumb slashers!)—it’s that it spreads out its carnage relatively thin over its 90s minutes and leaves you precious little to chew on in the meanwhile. There’s a great opportunity to tap into what must have been the initial pitch for the film (“it’s Fast & The Furious meets Joy Ride!”) when Rusty charges the kids with the nigh-impossible task of driving 100 miles in an hour to save their friend; however, the film blows right through this chance at legitimate suspense and proceeds rather listlessly until the final ten minutes or so, at which point the film makes a last ditch effort to come alive. It’s here that it posits the existence of “hockey ninjas” (I knew Canada was stockpiling WMDs, damnit) and drums up some twists and turns in a frantic race to the finish line.
The director here is Declan O’Brien, Fox’s in-house direct-to-video auteur; having already shepherded a trio of Wrong Turn sequels to the small-screen, this is old hat for him. With that said, he’s made some strides since Wrong Turn 3, as Roadkill works much better than that one, even if he is still a bit constrained by a small budget. It’s not a bad effort, but it’s tough to outrun the DTV trappings of the whole affair. At least Fox has put together a pretty nice Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for the film’s home video release; the high-def presentation is very solid, with the 5.1 DTS-MA track especially producing a lively, rumbling soundstage. The extras are quite abundant as well: O’Brien provides a feature commentary and about ten minutes worth of “Director’s Die-aries. A 12-minute making-of featurette joins some pre-viz sequences, deleted scenes, a short feature chronicling one character’s casting, and trailers for other Fox releases. That’s a lot of attention lavished on the second sequel to a thirteen-year-old film, so I like to think the studio really cares to do right by this impromptu franchise, which will hopefully continue on. If there’s any justice in this world, O’Brien is already petitioning Fox to let him helm Joy Ride 4: Wrong Turn. I’d watch the hell out of that, too. Rent it!
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