I’ll say this for writer/director Declan O'Brien’s Joy Ride 3 – at least it sounded good on paper. In a move that – with the right amount of humor and a charismatic character (or two) – could’ve been the stuff of tongue-in-cheek pop culture kismet, O'Brien decided to throw a wrench into the formula that was first established in John Dahl’s underrated Duel meets Scream ’01 contemporary sleeper hit.
The series, which centers on a predatory trucker named Rusty Nail that stalks pretty young things on a lonely stretch of American highway stayed pretty true to the paradigm in the second film (Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead) but former Roger Corman director O'Brien called on his vast horror background for his turn at the helm.
Opting to switch gears, in a shrewd in-joke he decided to have Rusty square off against a group of racers – the same type of characters that wouldn’t be out of place in a Fast and Furious franchise film that turned original Joy Ride lead Paul Walker into a household name.
Although it’s a terrific premise in theory to not only raise the stakes but also give his group of joy-riders a better than average chance of defeating the twisted madman (whose face still remains hidden but whose shudder inducing voice easily dominates the film), unfortunately Joy Ride 3 runs out of gas almost as quickly as it starts following an exploitative yet truly terrifying opener.
Making the most of the straight-to-disc unrated status, the film opens with a gratuitous sex scene featuring two addicts who pick the wrong long distance trucker to prank after Rusty gets even by chaining them to the front of his truck.
While that’s easily the most genuinely frightening sequence as the two are forced to hold on to each other while balancing for a mile on the front of Rusty’s cab, the movie only goes downhill from there.
Failing to follow through with a fresh aside wherein O'Brien introduces us to police officers who've begun to find evidence of Rusty’s serial slaughters on Highway 17 (that might've turned Roadkill into a whodunit police procedural horror movie to give us the tiniest prospect of mystery) which could've enhanced the Rusty Nail legend from the previous films, O'Brien falls back on the established routine.
Thus, other than conveniently offering exposition from time-to-time, the police are mostly relegated to victim status for the rest of the misguided plotline. It’s a shame too because this scene offers further proof that between the police/culprit cat-and-mouse paradigm and the street racers spin, as a writer/director O'Brien has no shortage of ideas. Unfortunately, he’s unable to make the most of one to really drive home a terrific production.
Bogged down by Roadkill’s lifeless dialogue that fails to strengthen an already weak cast of interchangeably bland, woefully underwritten characters we can barely tell apart (although sadly it does help that of the film’s two girls, he cast one blonde and one brunette as a sort of color-coded Cliff’s Notes), the film goes into genre cruise control and never picks up momentum.
Although the second film was criticized for being far too heavily influenced by the first one, honestly after watching all three in quick succession to prepare for the review, I was surprised by how much I liked Joy Ride 2 as a worthy follow-up to Dahl’s ingenious original.
Yes, it did repeat certain tactics established in Dahl’s film including Rusty’s requests for the kids to carry out certain dares but the lively – if flawed – characters and talented cast helped sell the situation, regardless of how ludicrous it seemed.
In this film, not only is very little made of their background racing but we don’t develop any kind of connection to the ensemble at all before they start getting tortured in one mind-numbingly cold and gruesome scene after another.
There’s just no spark of life to the film, whether it’s in the charisma of the cast or the anticlimactic showdowns that (unlike the previous cat-and-mouse chase-filled last acts of the earlier pictures), are completely lacking in suspense or surprise.
While admittedly Rusty and his targets defied death far too many times in previous films, when there’s no tension, the horror-based confrontations just feel sadomasochistic at best.
Obviously, given his extensive background and proof apparent in the film, O'Brien has an enviably clever mind to come up with the creative set-up for the film. However, after taking a look at his overcrowded filmography of far too many straight-to-disc sequels (from Marine 3 to Wrong Turn 4 and 5), I’m thinking that if he either slowed down to give himself a creative break between projects or let someone else supercharge his scripts with a punched up rewrite, his next horror entry will leave the rest in the dust.
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