Steve Zahn and Paul Walker in Joy Ride (dir. John Dahl, 2001).
John Dahl is one of the notable torch-bearers of neo-noir in the last twenty years, though he's had only a couple of totally solid genre successes. Joy Ride is Dahl well after falling from his peak, having a little resurgence of inspiration. It's not particularly inspired inspiration--the best moments are almost still shots, showing Dahl's considerable feel for atmosphere and framing. Part of what these moments drive home is that even at his best, in films like Red Rock West and The Last Seduction, Dahl's noirish vision was that of a talented student: once he got the form down, he had no ideas of his own where to go with it. Thus he became yet another creator of competent but forgettable Hollywood not-quite-thrillers like Rounders. Joy Ride does deliver some real scares, however, especially in its first half; after that, the formulaic turns come too routinely, and the comfortable conventions of the buddy movie defuse the dread that's been built up. The DVD's special features contain about a billion alternate endings, all of which are exactly the same despite their elaborate differences.