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Film / Joy Ride

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Joy Ride is a 2001 horror film written and produced by J. J. Abrams and starring Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, and Leelee Sobieski. It subsequently spawned two direct-to-video sequels: Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead (2008) and Joy Ride 3: Roadkill (2014).

All three films follow roughly the same narrative: A group of young adult pranksters make the big mistake of pissing off a deranged truck driver, "Rusty Nail" (voiced by Ted Levine). Being the old-school road-rager that he is, Rusty retaliates by stalking and terrorizing said pranksters in his large and ominous Peterbilt and often taking out a few innocent bystanders in the process.

Not to be confused with the 2023 film of the same name starring Ashley Park.

This film contains examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: A good chunk of the people Rusty targets are usually not-so-innocent and often deliberately provoked him first, especially in the sequels. Hell, even Lewis and Fuller (Fuller especially when Rusty asked for an apology) went out of their way to piss him off.
  • Ax-Crazy: Rusty.
  • Badass Driver: Rusty may be a psychopath with anger management issues but he is a damn good truck driver.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In all three movies Rusty does a brutal number on his targets and escapes the police alive (albeit injured in the last two films and minus his truck in all three).
  • Batman Gambit: Rusty isn't just brutal, ruthless and sadistic; he is also very cunning and typically more intelligent than his targets and is usually one step ahead of them.
  • Big Bad: Rusty, of course.
  • Big Badass Rig: In all three movies Rusty drives a jet-black Peterbilt 379, one of the most visually impressive and intimidating trucks on the road (there is a reason that it is the same make and model of truck used for Optimus Prime).
  • Blatant Lies: Lewis telling Venna he has a car he can pick her up in. The next scene shows him scrambling to buy one.
  • Booby Trap: Rusty rigs one up using a shotgun with its trigger connected via string to the hotel door in the climax of the first movie.
  • Bound and Gagged: Venna as part of the aforementioned booby trap, and Charlotte is found this way in the cabin of Rusty's Truck.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Fuller insulting Rusty Nail rather than apologizing after knowing he's a dangerous killer.
  • Car Fu: A good chunk of the movies is Rusty playing bumper cars with the protagonists' vehicles.
  • Catchphrase: "Candy Cane..."
  • Chekhov's Gun: Lewis's broken taillight.
  • Chronically Crashed Car: In all three movies Rusty's truck is destroyed. Shot by police and crashed into a hotel in the first one; set on fire and driven over a cliff in the second; ripped apart by a junk-yard crane and dropped into a car crusher in the third.
  • Comically Missing the Point: "When did you get out of jail, yesterday?"
  • Creepy Good
    • Officer Kenny has a bit of a creepy smile as he picks away on his toothpick and asks questions and then takes the boys to see a man Rusty nearly killed, but considering that they are holding information back from them, and he can tell this and just wants to get them talking, this is fairly justified.
    • The ice truck driver is an imposing man, carrying a heavy object around who speeds after the brothers, but only to return a credit card they left, with the heavy object being a tire checker necessary in his line of work. The guy doesn't even take offense at how they'd been scared of him, admitting that his mustache is a little intimidating and his wife has been asking him to shave it.
  • Deadly Prank: Fuller and Lewis decide to prank a trucker with a typical "fake date" set-up and they have the bad luck of doing it to the only trucker in America who is a murderous maniac. Various people end up dead as collateral damage in said trucker's unrelenting quest to make them pay.
  • Deadpan Snarker: One of Rusty's defining traits, besides sadism and brutality.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Rusty Nail reacts to being set up for a prank by ripping off an innocent trucker's jaw and pursuing the prankers with full intent to kill them after some humiliation.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Fuller, why oh why did you feel the need to insult Rusty over the CB after the cops had taken you to the hospital and shown you what happens to people who piss Rusty off?
  • Everyone Lives: Played straight, as all main cast members survive. Averted in other two movies.
  • Evil Is Funny: Rusty Nail definitely has an, albeit seriously warped, sense of humor.
  • Evil Is Petty: Giving Rusty the finger results in bodily mutilation of either the bird-flipper or their friends.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Rusty's voice is quite deep, courtesy of Ted Levine.
  • The Faceless: Rusty's face is always blocked by his cap.
  • Fanservice: Leelee Sobieski spent the majority of her scenes braless. To say nothing of Steve Zahn and Paul Walker when Rusty blackmails Lewis and Fuller into entering a truck stop diner completely nude.
  • Final Girl: Somehow subverted, since both girls survive.
  • Finger in the Mail: Well, more like in the glove compartment.
  • Forced to Watch: Rusty is very prone to doing this his victims. The hotel and the shotgun booby-trap climax in the first, the craps game in the second, Jewel in the trailer with the electric winch in the third.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Rusty, of course. In fact, a lot of the time it is unclear if Rusty is a Serial Killer actively searching for victims or simply a lonely trucker that turns really, really angry when somebody messes with him and is prone to Disproportionate Retribution.
  • Hollywood CB: Many times throughout the movies, the main characters and their pursuer have inexplicable privacy on the radio. In Real Life, State Highway Patrols have a tendency to monitor CB channels and other truckers would also be listening in so in reality the cops would have been all over Rusty about half-way through the first movie.
  • Hostage MacGuffin: Charlotte, for a large part of the movie.
  • I Can See You:
    Rusty (speaking through the truck radio): You know, Black Sheep, you really ought to get that fixed.
    Fuller: Get what fixed?
    Rusty: Your taillight.
  • Jerkass: Fuller. Hell, it seems like half the protagonists in all three movies are assholes.
  • Kick the Dog: Rusty needlessly ramming through the ice truck and probably killing the driver when he could have just waited for him to go then attacked the boys.
  • Lost in the Maize: The protagonists are chased by Rusty through a corn field.
  • Mama's Boy: Fuller accuses Lewis of being one (even giving him it as a CB handle) and at the very least he is closer to their mom than Fuller
  • Manly Facial Hair: The ice truck driver and Sheriff Ritter are both imposing, mustached men.
  • Manchild: Fuller is a little too childishly eager to play stupid pranks and aggravate people, while whining away responsibility for his actions and trash-talking their parents.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • Lewis deciding to go out of his way and bail his estranged brother out of jail is a nice, heartfelt moment. Then he gets pulled over for making an illegal u-turn and having a broken tailight.
    • The ice truck Driver turning out not to be Rusty Nail, leaving the characters relieved, is followed by the real Rusty Nail turning up rather brutally. In one of the commentaries, J.J. Abrams lampshades this, noting that when people are laughing with relief in the middle of a horror movie, something bad is seconds away from happening.
  • My Car Hates Me: In all three movies the protagonists' car gives them trouble (like having a flat tire after they had put some distance between them and Rusty and therefore allowing Rusty to catch up).
  • Never My Fault: Fuller is very reluctant to admit that what Rusty Nail did to Ronald Ellinghouse was his fault, comparing it to a prank phone call where a pizza deliveryman gets shot by the guy who didn't order pizzas. Lewis tells him that would be their fault too.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The ice truck driver has his rig demolished, and is possibly killed, just for having gone to return a credit card Lewis left behind.
  • Not Quite Dead: Rusty in every film's ending seems to have been killed, but is later revealed to be alive.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The confrontation between Rusty Nail and the Jerkass guest takes place behind a wall, with only a few muffled sounds coming through. The end result speaks for itself.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Rusty is only known by his CB handle.
  • Oh, Crap!: Usually happens whenever someone sees Rusty's truck behind them or he calls them on the CB.
  • Pink Is Feminine: Venna's roommate Charlotte's outfit and lipstick are pink and girly.
  • Police Are Useless: Largely averted. Officer Keeny quickly figures out that the boys know something about the attack on Ellinghouse and finds the right way to get them to talk, while his boss Sheriff Ritter takes their information and then sends them out of town due to their being nothing better to do. In the climax, the police almost accidentally kill Venna by triggering a Booby Trap, but then stand down Rusty Nail's approaching truck, firing through the windshield for a while, helping disable it. Played straighter in the alternate ending, where the cops are more obstructive, don't believe the brothers when they figure out what Rusty is about to do, and don't face down and fire at his truck.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sheriff Ritter, who makes it clear how disgusted his is by the prank and its results, but doesn't press the matter, just giving the brothers tongue lashing and ordering them out of town before focusing his efforts on the dismal chance of tracking down Rusty Nail.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Sheriff Ritter's entire screen time consists of insulting the brothers' poor choices.
    Ritter: That is the pain in my ass. My own personal file of ongoing shit that I got to deal with. And now, guess what? Now, I got me another one. Mr. Ronald Ellinghouse... layin' two inches from dead in my jurisdiction. Why? Because you sorry-as punks thought you'd have some fun. Fuck! I'd keep you retards in custody if I thought it would help answer... one of the hundreds of new questions I got. But, no. All you know is his damn C.B. handle. And maybe he drives a truck. Do you understand the kinds of shit I got to grapple with now... because of what you assholes did? You! You got out of jail when? Yesterday? I want you outta here. This is like an old-fashioned western. I want you out of Wyoming before the sun goes down.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Rusty's motivation is to make make Fuller and Lewis pay for the little incident at the hotel, through psychological torture, cold-blooded murder or a little bit of both.
  • Scare Chord: Often used to introduce Rusty's truck.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: While perhaps not the true intent of the film, it does serve as a warning to would-be pranksters that they should be careful who they mess with and when to stop.
    Tagline: It started as a joke. Now the joke is on them.
  • Shameful Strip: To teach the boys what it's like to feel humiliated and to distract them while he kidnaps Venna, Rusty blackmails them into entering a diner nude and ordering a dozen cheeseburgers each.
  • Sherlock Scan: Fuller quickly realizes what his brother is up to in volunteering to pick up Venna when he notices the new registration papers on the seat, and listens to Fuller talk about her very briefly.
  • Spiritual Successor: The first film drew a lot of inspiration and themes from Duel.
  • Stalker without a Crush: Good old Rusty, of course. It takes a lot to get him to quit following and messing with you if you are unlucky enough to have attracted his attention.
  • Surprise Vehicle: A lot of times the main characters don't seem to notice Rusty's truck until it is right on top of them.
  • Tempting Fate: When Rusty asks for an apology for the prank, Fuller responds instead with a diatribe. This results in an Oh, Crap! when Rusty implies he's behind them by commenting on their burned-out tail light.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Fuller unleashes an insulting diatribe towards Rusty when he and his brother already know that he is not somebody to mess with.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Fuller pressures his brother (who admittedly does get into it fairly easily) into pretending to be a girl on the radio to prank a stranger.
    Fuller: Get him goin', get him all worked up, and then in the middle of it, say 'Hey guess what! I'm a dude!' Come on, man, it'll be fun!
  • Uncertain Doom: The ice truck driver from the gas station, who is heavily implied to have been the body left inside Rusty's truck, although that body was dressed differently then he had been, and seemed to have fresh blood on it rather than days-old dried blood. Rusty had also seemed to only smash through the trailer, while not touching the cab as much when he plowed through the ice truck, adding some ambiguity as to whether it was his body, or another ice truck driver’s.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Venna has some chemistry with both of the brothers.
  • Vapor Wear: Venna clearly isn't wearing a bra in several scenes.
  • Wham Line:
    Rusty Nail (over the C.B. radio): You really ought to get that fixed.
    Fuller: Get what fixed?
    Rusty Nail: Your taillight.
    • Also, this scene at the end:
    Lewis: Did you find out who he was?
    Cop: Yeah, he was some trucker named Jones. He worked for an ice company in Wyoming.