Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead

It took seven years and a great deal of apathy, but in 2008 a sequel to Joy Ride was released, direct-to-DVD — because nothing inspires confidence like a late direct-to-video sequel. None of the previous cast returned, and even though one character is back, he’s been transformed into something that only kind of resembles the original. The only thing working in Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead‘s favor is that it decides to switch up the morality lesson. Instead of telling the audience not to prank people, this time it tells us not to steal.

There are four characters this time around, although one of them gets kidnapped pretty early on. Melissa (Nicki Aycox) and Bobby (Nick Zano) are driving along with Melissa’s sister, Kayla (Laura Jordan), to Las Vegas for a joint bachelor/bachelorette party. The two of them are getting married soon, and Kayla had to come because it’s her sister and family needs to stick together. At a gas station, our fourth member, Nik (Kyle Schmid) joins the party. He’s Kayla’s date, and is a guy she met online. No, this isn’t going to turn into an “internet serial killer” movie, although we do eventually learn that people aren’t like they describe themselves on dating profiles. Big shock.

The car breaks down, because it has to for us to have a story. The four walk down the road a bit before finding a seemingly abandoned house. There’s a sports car here. They decide to “borrow” it, leaving a note for the owner to get in contact with them if he or she happens to return before they can return it. Bigger shock: the house belongs to Rusty Nail (voice of Mark Gibbon, taking over from Ted Levine), the villain of the first film.

The plot is a bit different in Joy Ride 2. Bobby gets kidnapped pretty early on, leaving the other character to try to save him. Rusty Nail gives them orders and they are told if they comply they will rescue Bobby. Rusty Nail feels more like a Jigsaw wannabe in this installment; perhaps he watched a couple of Saw chapters in the seven years between films.

Rusty Nail no longer feels like himself. That’s not to speak ill of Mark Gibbon, who does a strong impersonation of Ted Levine, but of the writing. The character is not the same person we knew in the last film. He’s not as menacing, and he’s all-knowing without any actual way for him to be that way. And his motivation doesn’t make as much sense. He felt betrayed and embarrassed last time around. Now he’s just angry and evil because that’s what he has to be. The character is far less enjoyable to listen to this time around.

That’s true of the movie as a whole, though. The “thrills” begin far earlier, and without the time to both build these characters and the suspense, the potential to thrill is limited. We don’t care about these characters, and the filmmaking form isn’t helping generate tension. This is the difference between a good movie, like the original, and a bad one, like the sequel. It’s all in how this type of thing is created, and this one just isn’t up to the lofty standard set by its predecessor.

There are a couple of strong moments, don’t get me wrong — a torturous “game” that a couple of the characters are forced to play stands as a highlight — and compared to some other direct-to-video films this one might come across as a masterpiece, but there’s a reason this grade of movie doesn’t get a theatrical release and nine times out of ten it’s because of a lack of quality. More often than not Joy Ride 2 fails to thrill or even entertain. It’s just sort of dull, and that’s the worst type of comment a thriller can garner.

It’s hard to even muster up much criticism for a movie like this one. It’s not as good as the original, it’s not terribly entertaining in its own right, and it doesn’t do a whole lot correctly. Is it even watchable? Well, Rusty Nail, even though he’s not the same as he once was, is still kind of compelling, and I managed to stay awake because of his presence, but for the most part I struggled. The lead characters are so bland and underdeveloped, too. I had to look up their names after the film was over.

I mean, you’re supposed to want characters in a movie like this to survive, right? You’re not supposed to be apathetic, or worse, rooting for their death. But I felt both of those things in this film, depending on the character. I didn’t care about three of them, and Nik’s persona — I won’t even begin to describe it, but it’s “alternative,” I guess — was so irritating and the character so awful that I hoped Rusty Nail would get him sooner rather than later.

When it comes to direct-to-video sequels, it’s hard to hope for much. But when the original film is so good, you have to come in with at least some sort of raised expectations. Unfortunately, Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead is not at all worth seeing. It transforms what could have been an iconic villain and turns him into a generic bad guy, it has no lead characters worth cheering for, and it’s all just sort of dull. It’s hard to get terribly excited, one way or the other, for a movie like this one, but what I do know is that you have little reason to watch it.

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