Review by Jack Foley
TEENAGERS in peril movies seem to be two a penny lately, while the concept
of a motorist being terrorised by a shadowy lorry driver was first delivered
by Steven Spielberg in Duel.
So it comes as quite a surprise, therefore, to find that John Dahl's Roadkill (formerly Joyride in the States) manages to be as thoroughly entertaining as it is.
Dahl, a veteran of indie-movie classics such as The Last Seduction and Red Rock West, directs proceedings with an enthusiasm reserved for the best thrillers, injecting proceedings with high moments of tension, as well as some ludicrously funny and over the top set pieces.
He also draws some terrific performances from his emerging leads, most notably Steve Zahn (of Happy Texas, Out Of Sight fame), as well as Paul (The Fast and the Furious) Walker and Leelee Sobieski (still best known for her fleeting appearance in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut).
The premise is fairly simple. Walker's college freshman is driving cross country to pick up the girl of his dreams (Sobieski) when he stops to pick up his troublesome brother (Zahn). But things take a turn for the worst when Zahn goads him into playing a practical joke on a lonely trucker over CB radio and the trucker wants revenge.
As cliched and unoriginal as it sounds, however, Roadkill manages to be both surprising and watchable, delivering its thrills and chills without ever seeming overly schlocky or signposted.
Yes, there are elements of Duel (epitomised by the faceless villain and his distinctive truck), as well as countless other movies from Breakdown through to The Hitcher (said trucker is also capable of murder); but viewers should be having so much fun perching on the edge of their seat, that they will barely notice.
Dahl should also be applauded for the way in which he manages to combine the laughter and terror so effectively, so that every moment spent in the company of the brothers is uneasy to say the least. Zahn, especially, makes an effective loud-mouth turned emotional wreck, and his wide eyed looks of terror are superbly played.
Dahl's use of location is also well realised, capturing the vastness of the US landscapes and the ease with which a driver could find themselves in this type of scenario.
If there is a criticism, then it's that Sobieski doesn't really get much of a look in (she is mere window-dressing), or that several of the peripheral characters are too expendable; but this is a small price to pay for the overall enjoyment factor.
For anyone seeking a fun-filled Friday or Saturday night in the cinema, then this - as its original name suggests - is a joyride laced with terror.