Roadkill


Directed by: John Dahl
Written by:Clay Tarver, Jeffrey Abrams
Starring: Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, Leelee Sobieski, Jessica Bowman
Released: July 25, 2002
Grade: B

It’s disheartening to hear that someone can get a film made these days in Hollywood without an ending.  I’ll reiterate that the most important part of a movie is the story - without it, even precision direction or flawless performances cannot save it.

In the United States, Roadkill was released nine months ago under a different title - Joy Ride.  After a lukewarm reception, 20th Century Fox delayed the Australian release and somehow thinks the new title will dramatically increase its Australian box-office.  Um, ok?  With the DVD already released overseas, I’m curious as to why it contains four alternative endings.  How can you write a film and then not know how to end it?

At college in California, Lewis (Walker) is about to spend his summer holidays overseas but gets a call from an old friend, Venna (Sobieski), who’s just split from her boyfriend.  He’s always had a huge crush on her so he cashes in his plane ticket, buys a cheap car and tells her he’ll pick her up from Colorado on the way home to New Jersey.  A slight detour in Salt Lake City is required when he has to pick up his brother, Fuller (Zahn), fresh from an overnight stop in jail.

On the road to meet Venna, they purchase an old CB radio to have some fun.  Lewis puts on a female voice, pretends to be a vixen named Candy Cane and attracts the attention of a truck driver named Rusty Nail.  To keep the game going, Lewis tells him to meet at midnight in room 17 of the Lone Star Motel.  Of course, he and Fuller are staying in room 18 and there’s a cranky old guy in the room next door they want to play with.

The joke soon becomes a nightmare.  Awoken by the sounds of sirens, the learn the guy staying next door was brutally beaten with his jaw being ripped clean off.  After questioning from police, Lewis and Fuller flee as fast as they can but they’re been followed - Rusty Nail is still on the CB radio and somehow knows their every move.  It’s time to start worrying about saving their own lives...

Aside from the weak ending, Roadkill is a joy ride.  It’s extremely well made by director John Dahl  (Rounders) thanks to precision cinematography.  The thrill factor is high with exciting chase scenes, lots of intense close ups, and some cool neon lighting at the hotel locations.  It’s a cut above the usual teen thriller.

Steve Zahn is the standout of the performers.  I’m used to his comedic tone but you can see the fear in his eyes during the later stages of the film.  With Paul Walker, they talk like two regular guys and act as any person would in their situation.  They’re not superheros who always seems to make the right moves - they’re definitely on the back foot and the keep making simple mistakes thanks to the fear that clouds their judgment.

I’m looking forward to buying the DVD just to see if the other three endings offer an improvement.  The one selected to accompany the final cut was chosen after members of the public were chosen to watch test screenings in America.  This is the same public who reward films like Men In Black 2 and Scooby-Doo with massive grosses and then talk about how great they are.  Hmm....