Joy Ride 3 (2014)

The Joy Ride series has always been one about morality. It exists to teach lessons — lessons we should already know, but regardless… — to both its characters and its audience. The first film was about telling us how bad pranking others is, while the second was about theft. You’d think that we’d keep moving up on the “badness” scale — would murder be next? — but instead we’re taking a step back. Joy Ride 3 (technically subtitled “Road Kill”) is about reckless driving. Ha. Get it. “Reckless.” ‘Cause they get wrecked.

The film does not open promisingly. It begins with a generic opening kill that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot and does nothing but re-establish a villain, Rusty Nail (now played by Ken Kirzinger), who doesn’t really need the extra time. Mostly, it’s to pad the film an extra 10 minutes. Rusty kills a couple of drug addicts after placing them in a Saw-like situation, because he started doing that last time and he’s not going to stop now. Boy, remember how quickly the Saw hype died? It was big one year and then the next it was done.

Right. This movie. The story follows a race car crew as they head across the country to a big race. On some back road, they wind up driving too fast and too dangerously — not furiously — for a trucker, who tries to run them off the road. And then he starts killing them, because the trucker is none other than Rusty Nail. This guy is everywhere! A game of life and death is started. Will the young adults survive the trucker’s onslaught, or will he put an end to their lives? You’ve (presumably) seen two of these already. What do you think?

One by one, the young actors are bloodied and killed by Rusty Nail. It becomes quite easy to determine who is here to be killed, who is here to be captured, and who has a slim chance of maybe saving the day if he or she is lucky. If you watch enough of these films, or pay attention to how characters are, well, characterized, you’ll figure it out. Once the roles are established, the plot plays out exactly how you expect.

I suppose that’s neither a positive or negative. You don’t really choose to view movies like this one on the hope that their plot or characters will surprise you. You’re here for some jump scares, some gory bits, and some fun deaths. Knowing who’s going to die doesn’t matter; it only matters that you don’t know how they’re going to die, and that’s what’s exciting. If you get creative or excessive kills, you’ll walk away happy. when you describe it like that, the film’s potential audience seems really depraved, doesn’t it?

Joy Ride 3‘s director is Declan O’Brien, who is not a household name but if you’ve seen the Wrong Turn series — or Sharktopus! — you’ve seen his work. He is surprisingly restrained in this film, at least in early portions. When excessive violence or gore could have been used, it wasn’t. There’s enough here for the gore hounds, but the film comes across as more mature because of its lack of excess. There’s some creativity shown, and a couple of later kills are pretty brutal, but the film doesn’t revel in that type of horror.

One might then question exactly what it does do, and that’s something I’m struggling with, too. It’s not particularly effective at generating suspense, it doesn’t have any characters that are engaging, the morality tale it’s telling is simplistic, and there’s really nothing here beyond its kills. It’s very much like its predecessor in that regard. There’s not enough here to say anything about it, really. It exists, it’s watchable, and that’s about it.

I suppose one positive that Joy Ride 3 has going in its favor is that it’s kind of funny. It made me laugh or at least chuckle more than a couple of times. Does that go against its horror/thriller tone? Sure. It’s not a horror-comedy, after all, and doesn’t try to be. But a couple of lines scattered here and there that make you snicker aren’t going to ruin a film like this. What you’re going to do is provide a few additional moments of enjoyment, and an extra paragraph of review for someone like me.

It’s strange to think that over the course of three films, Rusty Nail has been played by three different actors, and it’s barely crossed my mind. Perhaps it’s because multiple years pass between installments, or they hired actors who all sound kind of similar, but the character continues to be the most enjoyable part of the series, and it doesn’t seem to matter if he’s played by Ted Levine or Mark Gibbon or Ken Kirzinger. The main “good” characters are almost afterthoughts; we just want to see Rusty Nail punish them.

Is Joy Ride 3: Road Kill worth your time? Probably not, but it’s also not really a waste of 96 minutes. There’s a bit of fun to be had with it, and if you happen to be a fan of director Declan O’Brien — I’m sure there are some of you out there — you get to see a more mature and reserved director this time out. That … might not make for the most enjoyable movie in the long run, but it’s an interesting direction for someone whose previous four movies were three Wrong Turn installments and Sharktopus. If you’re a fan of the series, you might as well check it out. It’s not terrible.

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