The Joy Ride movies aren’t as much a franchise as they are one luckily decent Paul Walker thriller followed by whatever the hell Joy Ride: Dead Ahead is, but with every intention of keeping the rubber burning, Sharktopus director Declan O’Brien was brought in to create a second sequel so good, the competition would be forced to eat nothing but dust.
O’Brien is more widely known for his work on the latter Wrong Turn movies, films oozing with wild gore, and that signature focus on mutilated body parts certainly makes for some nice bits of roadkill strewn about Slaughter Alley – but does the promise of vile brutality make another horrifying road-trip sound enticing? Not many people were clamoring for Joy Ride 3, yet Twentieth Century Fox took a gamble on this grotesque home release, and while horror fans certainly won’t be hailing the road-raging franchise, there’s a surprising amount of cringe-worthy moments that never cease to disappoint. Go ahead, sit back and enjoy the ride – if you dare.
In some cases, the road less traveled always leads to adventure, but for a group of rowdy street racers heading to Canada, their adventure quickly turns into a nightmare thanks to an urban legend of sorts (Rusty Nail). After being warned about a long stretch of highway that would cut down their travel time by about a day, the roadsters find themselves being stalked by a vengeful trucker who isn’t too amused by their flashy driving antics. What starts as a leisurely drive turns into a race for survival, testing these driving aces for all they’re worth and putting their lives on the line. Will they escape the ruthless trucker’s grasp, or will their demise be nothing but a skid-mark on a long patch of pavement?
Joy Ride 3 benefits from a very clear understanding of personal goals, none of which reach very far beyond being a short and sweet thrill ride. Little time is wasted establishing a generic batch of young lead characters, and even less time is wasted introducing us to O’Brien’s hyper-violent influence on the Joy Ride franchise. Granted, previous directors John Dahl and Louis Morneau have their own seriously sadistic moments of pain, but O’Brien makes Rusty Nail more of a slasher villain than tormentor. The opening debauchery is eerily reminiscent to a trap from Saw, as Rusty re-lives a distant memory and makes his tweaking victims pay for their seedy ways. Cue bodies exploding into a reddish pulp, tires kicking up bloody mists, and many other automotive-themed deaths.
Aiding in the fun of Joy Ride 3 is Rusty Nail himself, a villain boasting a re-invigorated presence thanks to Ken Kirzinger’s first-time effort as the vile trucker. His signature big rig – complete with an elegant hood ornament – becomes an ominous sign of danger, as a Jaws-like score introduces impending doom. Anecdotal bits like this provide campy fun, as Kirzinger delivers line after line about how he learned fighting moves from a “hockey ninja” and such, highlighting some seriously cheesy backwoods one-liners – but that’s part of the fun. A trucker, killing off characters with car-related means, spewing car-related zingers? Joy Ride 3 understands exactly what an unnecessary sequel needs to be *somewhat* successful. Rusty Nail becomes a lesser version of Wolf Creek‘s Mick Taylor, without the proper chemistry that a John Jarratt-type fully delivers.
Please note, when I say Joy Ride 3 is gory, we’re talking the grossest, most decaying roadkill you’ve ever seen in your life – 1000x over. But, in a breath of fresh air, all the gore is poignantly practical, and ripe with style. Sure, there might have been a CGI touch-up here and there, but O’Brien comes to town with a whole bag full of body parts ready for screen time, and each kill utilizes more and more of the prosthetic limbs. The director brings a gleefully celebratory horror atmosphere full of an entertainingly frantic dispatching of victims, like a series of really killer riffs in an otherwise pedestrian metal song. I mean, there’s a deadly homage to everyone’s favorite boardwalk crane game, along with a Large Marge reference to compliment such atrocities against human beings – it’s camp-tastic!
Notice how I said “pedestrian,” though? It’s true, Joy Ride 3 is everything we expect from a direct-to-home release, favoring played-up horror antics over sensible storytelling. By ignoring any sort of character buildup, we don’t really care for the sexy gear-heads, and by focusing solely on a murderous truck driver’s nasty habits, we don’t care much about any reasonable storytelling either. Well, let me rephrase that – there’s just not much for us to care about concerning those aspects. Character actions become silly and irrational, along with a bit disturbing when thinking back on main meathead Jordan’s (Jesse Hutch) barbaric squealing while fighting Rusty Nail, as we’re missing a cohesive piece to O’Brien’s messy puzzle.
Joy Ride 3 is a bit like a NASCAR cup race. If you’re a fan, watching the cars going round and round like a million times before will still be enjoyable, but if you’re looking for a new set of thrills or a deviation from the normal track, you’ll probably get bored with the generically crafted material. The difference is, O’Brien knows we’ve all seen his formula time and time again, and he does everything possible to make the ride worthwhile. Pimping out this dirty rig with plenty of blood, guts, and gratuitous gore scores O’Brien some gnarly genre points, but such a focus will only appeal to true horror gorehounds – the rest might want to hitch a different ride to Scarytown, USA. Yup, I hate myself for that last pun as much as you do.
If you like watching people being splattered against the grill of a death-dealing 18 wheeler, Joy Ride 3 is the perfect movie for you! No, really, it's a hell of a lot of fun at times, with the right mindset.