Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead (2008)

Sisters Melissa (Nicki Aycox) and Kayla (Laura Jordan) haven’t seen each other in months, so what better way to change that than going on a road trip to Las Vegas with Melissa’s fiancée Bobby (Nick Zano) for the couple’s shared bachelor bash? Kayla invites her internet boyfriend Nik (Kyle Schmid) as a surprise road trip guest too, though Nik’ll turn out to be a bit of a prick when they meet him half-way to Vegas.

When going on a detour/short-cut Nik suggests, the group’s car dies somewhere out in the desert, about a hundred miles from their last stop. Fortunately, they manage to find a house relatively close-by. The place is mostly empty, doesn’t have a working phone and doesn’t seem to have been lived in for quite a while, but its garage features a rather nice looking car in perfect working order, with a full tank. They decide to borrow the vehicle to get to safety, and – on the insistence of the rather more sane Melissa and Bobby – bring it back once they have found a car rental. To be on the safe side, Melissa does leave her mobile number.

In a rather unfortunate turn of event the car they borrowed belongs to a truck driving serial killer calling himself – rather adorably - Rusty Nail (Mark Gibbon). And Rusty really likes to play, so first he kidnaps Bobby and then begins to play various cruel games with the others, threatening Bobby’s life if they don’t comply. It’s going to be a rather interesting time for everyone involved, though Melissa will turn out to be the kind of woman whose fiancée you probably shouldn’t kidnap.

The prospect of a direct-to-DVD sequel to a thriller that didn’t exactly swim in money isn’t usually a terribly exciting one. However, I’ve always been rather fond of director Louis Morneau’s films, and more or less enjoyed every single one of them in all their various states of low (and ever lower) budget glory. While he’s not a particularly stylish director, Morneau is the good kind of genre film journeyman who actually puts effort into his work, turning out films that generally feel to me like the result of someone trying to make the best film possible under the circumstances instead of coasting on breasts and blood like the Jim Wynorskis of this world prefer.

So it’s not much of a surprise that Morneau does make an at least always decently entertaining thriller out of a script that really could have gone through another re-write or two (so our characters can break into a drive-in morgue to steal a finger but they can’t try to secretly contact the police?), and charming little problems like the fact that British Columbia might not be an ideal place to shoot a movie supposedly set in the US desert states. Turns out there are desert-ish looking places (at least when they are framed right) available, and the rest of the proper desert mood is provided by the yellowest filter to ever turn a place desert-y. Though, honestly, I’m not intent on mocking the film here, for Morneau does make the setting more or less work.

Every ten minutes or so, the script also throws the director a bone in form of a budget-conscious suspense or action scene. These mostly turn out pretty darn well, with Morneau usually finding the most interesting and exciting looking way to shoot a given scene – again, this is not something you can actually expect from a direct-to-DVD movie. More often than not, these scenes get downright exciting.

And while it’s easy to mock the script for plot holes and a certain silliness that comes with the territory of how artificial most thriller plot set-ups are, it also subverts some of the more typical thriller expectations, like letting Bobby (whose actor also looks the part of a low budget action hero) be the kidnapped princess while Melissa as the female character goes to insane and violent lengths to get him back. Aycox is rather convincing in the part, too, particularly in the second half of the film when she applies her own killer instincts to the situation.

All of which certainly makes for very enjoyable, sometimes exciting ninety minutes of movie.

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