Road Kill Review
For Tiffany Bradford's review of the R1 DVD, please click here
Normally, when a film has its name changed en route to a fairly delayed UK release, it's a sign that the distributor has little faith in the final product, and wishes to fend off any of the bad advance word it has accrued from its US release, preferably via a substantial opening weekend. Therefore, Road Kill (aka Joy Ride- neither title's especially good, if we're being brutally honest) should, by rights, by a terrible little film; it comes as a pleasant surprise that, bar a disappointing ending, this is a very entertaining little B-movie thriller with more than enough laughs and thrills for a good night out.
The plot is reminiscent of several man-against-indomitable-force films, specifically Spielberg's Duel and Jonathan Mostow's underrated Breakdown. Lewis Thomas (Walker) is a student going home for the holidays; eschewing the usual round of drunken frat parties and 'hilarious' gross out antics, he is travelling home, picking up his ne'er do well brother Fuller (Zahn) en route, and, if all goes well, getting it together with Venna (Sobieski) as a bonus. However, as Fuller and Lewis travel, they manage to antagonise a mysterious trucker calling himself 'Rusty Nail' via some abuse of a CB radio; before you can say 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery', they are being pursued by a large truck, and are soon involved in some decidedly odd, and occasionally very tense, adventures.
John Dahl's previous career has, to put it kindly, been patchy, with the promise of such early works as Red Rock West and, notably, The Last Seduction slowly curdling into straightforward mediocrity (Rounders, anyone?). However, this is something of a return to form. Although many may quibble with the ratio of laughs to thrills- at times, thanks to Zahn's cartoonish performance and some utterly strange narrative touches, this feels more like a parody of the genre than anything else- there's no denying that there are some effectively tense moments here, with the sensible decision to keep Rusty Nail (mostly) hidden and distanced making him as disturbing an adversary as any supernatural force. Although there's an irritating lull about halfway through that almost prompts the response 'Is this supposed to be a thriller or not?', the momentum is normally well sustained, and some modicum of characterisation is at least included, albeit as a result of the performances more than the rather thin script.
After a couple of dull performances in The Skulls and The Fast and the Furious, Walker is considerably better here, although he is constrained by a rather two-dimensional role, as is Sobieski in a part that requires her to spend half the film offscreen, and a large part...well, that'd be spoiling it! All credit to Zahn, then, who reminds us all why everyone was raving about him in Soderbergh's Out of Sight; the script doesn't give him a vast amount to go on, but he manages to bring the character of Fuller to life rather wonderfully, especially in an uproarious bar-room scene where he shows viewers the right way to diffuse a potentially unpleasant situation; no Patrick Swayze heroics here! Meanwhile, the (uncredited) voice of Ted Levine is suitably chilling for Rusty Nail, and all the technical credits are strong, especially a drivingly tense score by Marco (Scream) Beltrami.
This is not a film that will change anyone's life, and, by the tense but ultimately anti-climatic ending (which, for those interested, is presented entirely differently as an extra on the R1 DVD), it's hard to escape the feeling that it's a fun popcorn film that could have been something really stunning. All the same, to succeed on any level, even the modest ones it sets itself, is something of an achievement these days, and Road Kill is certainly worth catching for an enjoyable bit of nonsensical entertainment, as well as to hope that Zahn gets a suitable vehicle for his talents soon.