Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, ...

Joy Ride begins with a simple, dirty CB-radio prank: Logging long miles to pick up his hoped-for girlfriend (Leelee Sobieski), and egged on by his troublemaking older brother (Steve Zahn), Lewis (”The Fast and the Furious”’ Paul Walker) flirts in a woman’s voice with a susceptible trucker. The gears shift quickly, though, when the humiliated trucker turns mad avenger — and when ”Joy Ride” zips confidently down the dangerous fast lane where ”Duel” drove before.

Unlike Steven Spielberg’s 30-year-old cult classic, though, ”Joy Ride” zigzags across the conventions of genre, occasionally driving on the shoulders of black humor — it’s a road movie for the way we process suspense today, and very recognizably the zany-brainy work of John Dahl, the urbane neo-noirist who made ”The Last Seduction.” The knowing, chatty script is by Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams. But the king of the road is Zahn, expertly steering his path between ironic goofball and real scared dude.

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