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JOYRIDE by Clay Tarver & J.J. Abrams

121 Pages

GENRE:

Thriller

LOCATION(S):

Wyoming, Nebraska, New Jersey, Colorado

BUDGET:

Medium

CIRCA:

Present

DATE:

11/22/02

LOGLINE:   Two brothers driving cross-country play a practical joke on a sinister trucker, forcing them to road trip for their lives.

CONTENT SUMMARY:   Though blessed with strong characters and memorable dialogue, JOY RIDE is hampered by a wobbly structure that allows the story to meander way too much.

RECOMMENDATION:   Consider

 

Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Premise:

x  

Story Line:

 x 

Structure:

 x 

Characterization:

x   

Dialogue:

x   

SYNOPSIS:   LEWIS THOMAS is a very happy Stanford freshman, and it's not because it's Christmas Break.  Lewis has had a crush on VENNA since they were kids back in Jersey.  Now he has a foolproof plan to turn this platonic relationship into a torrid romance.  He'll drive to Colorado, pick Venna up at her university, and then take the interstate all the way back to the East Coast.  Taking this long, cross-country trip will give shy, tentative Lewis ample time to bond with Venna -- and hopefully make her his main squeeze.

But as he zooms towards Colorado in his newly-purchased '79 Impala, Lewis makes a fateful decision.  He detours to Salt Lake City to bail out his older brother Fuller, stuck in jail on a drunk-and-disorderly charge.  Fuller is the exact opposite of Lewis: he's a free-spirit who's not afraid to show his emotions, especially towards pretty girls.  Unfortunately, he's also an irresponsible lunkhead with a self-destructive streak a mile long.  Fast-talking Fuller convinces Lewis to take him as far as Colorado, where he supposedly has a job opportunity waiting for him.

As they get under way, Fuller buys a CB radio to make the boring drive go faster.  Amongst all the different voices they hear on the airwaves, the creepiest is from a trucker named "RUSTY NAIL."  This guy sounds like a combination of Gomer Pyle and the Devil.  So fun-loving Fuller gets an idea: let's play a practical joke on this dude!  He wants Lewis to pretend he's a female trucker named Candy Cane.  "Candy Cane" will then invite Rusty back to her hotel (actually the hotel Lewis and Fuller are staying at) for a romantic rendezvous at 1 A.M.  Of course, Lewis will actually be inviting Rusty to the room next door to his, one containing a loudmouth named ELLINGHOUSE. Lewis and Fuller will then sit back and laugh as the lovelorn trucker and jerk-off businessman start yelling at each other.

Now at first, Lewis is Mr. Responsible -- he doesn't want to have anything to do with this.  But part of him secretly wants to be wild-at-heart like his bro.  So he goes along with the gag and "asks" Rusty Nail out on a date.  And the gullible Rusty takes the bait.

But this joke doesn't go like the brothers expect.  When Rusty Nail finds out Candy Cane isn't waiting for him after all, this force of nature proceeds to beat Ellinghouse into a coma.  And when he finds out Lewis and Fuller were behind the whole thing, he and his eighteen-wheeler chase the boys all over the deserted, nighttime roads of Wyoming.  Rusty Nail's rig finally pins the Impala to a tree -- Lewis and Fuller think they're going to be pancaked.  But when the brothers apologize for the joke over the CB, Rusty Nail inexplicably backs up his truck and disappears into the night.

Grateful to be still breathing, Lewis and Fuller continue on to pick up Venna.  Lewis decides not to tell her about Rusty Nail for fear she'll freak.  But he has a more pressing problem on his hands.  The ever-impulsive Fuller is totally smitten by Venna, and immediately starts hitting on her.  And since Fuller has decided to return to Jersey with his brother, Lewis is going to have to compete for Venna's affections all the way home.

This sudden love triangle is about to turn one brother against the other when Rusty Nail's voice begins taunting them over the CB.  This psycho has kidnapped Venna's roommate CHARLOTTE, so they better do what he says or she's roadkill.  Rusty wants to humiliate the brothers like he was humiliated -- he forces them to strip naked and stroll into a crowded Nebraska truck stop.  But the boys catch a break when Venna spots Rusty's rig leaving the parking lot.  The Impala runs the truck off the road and Fuller beats the driver to within an inch of his life -- but it's the wrong guy!  Rusty Nail's truck is actually parked at a different location.  And it has two corpses inside: one's Rusty, a shotgun-suicide, and the other is Charlotte, hanging in the rear of the semi like a piece of ripped meat.

Shocked and devastated, Lewis, Fuller and Venna fly back to New Jersey.  Venna blames Lewis for Charlotte's death, and even when he professes his love for her, can't bear to see him. But someone else can: Rusty Nail.  As far as Rusty is concerned, Venna is Candy Cane and she's gonna be his.  So he kidnaps her right out of her house and speeds away in his rig.

Lewis and Fuller fly after them like a two-man posse.  Fuller tries to block Rusty's truck with the family car, but nearly gets flattened for his trouble.  So Venna has to escape herself -- she bashes Rusty's face in with a fender and scoots out of the rig.  The indestructible Rusty brushes this love-tap off and continues to chase Venna on foot.  He corners her on the nighttime suburban streets, about to smother her in his grip.  Then Lewis comes to the rescue with an eighteen-wheel cavalry -- he commandeers Rusty's cab and squashes the maniac with his own truck.

COMMENTS:   The structure of JOY RIDE is its biggest problem.  This is a story where the narrative momentum keeps stalling out, like a car jerking forward in fits and starts.

In those extremely important first ten pages, the script lurches clumsily from teen romance to family drama.  It's only in the second sequence (pages 15-30) that Rusty Nail is even introduced.  And it takes till Page 30 for the boys to finally play that practical joke on him.  But at least the "trucker from hell" premise has kicked in and the story's moving forward.

Then things get pretty good -- for two more sequences (Page 30-60), Rusty Nail plays cat-and-mouse with the brothers, culminating in a scene where he nearly crushes them flat with his truck.  But after the boys apologize for the joke, Rusty Nail disappears from the story...along with any suspense his presence created.

At the script's mid-point, Lewis and Fuller pick up Venna and head for home.  But with Rusty Nail still out of the picture, the threat (and momentum) is gone, causing the story to meander for another fifteen pages.  Luckily, Rusty Nail's return ratchets up the suspense.  From 75 to 95 we're in spellbinding thriller mode.  Then Rusty Nail kills himself and the threat is gone for good.

Of course, we just know Rusty Nail is out there, following our heroes back to New Jersey.  The trouble is we have to wait another ten pages for the bad guy to show his face.  By the time Rusty shows up for the final round, we're more bored than entertained.

For JOY RIDE's structure to work, it must stick to the Rusty Nail throughline.  The romantic digressions need to be reduced and more Rusty put in their place.  This will generate the momentum and suspense the script needs to succeed.

On the plus side, the trio of lead characters is extremely well-etched.  Lewis is wonderfully complex, at once responsible and impulsive -- a good kid struggling to keep his bad kid inside.

Fuller is similarly conflicted.  He's grateful to his brother for bailing him out, but his ego won't let him be second fiddle.  So in order to show him who's boss he not only makes Lewis mess with Rusty Nail, he starts hitting on Venna himself.

Venna begins as just another playful college girl.  But once Rusty Nail threatens them, she shows reserves of inner strength, keeping her head while the brothers flip out.

The lead characters also speak in very distinctive voices, making them much more memorable to the reader.  Lewis' lines are sometimes short and curt, other times brash and wild, just like his good boy/bad boy character.  Since Fuller is an id with feet, often blurting out whatever he wants without regard to consequences, his dialogue reflects that as well.  Finally, Venna's transformation from perky co-ed to steely-eyed survivor is expertly portrayed via dialogue that goes from cheeky innuendo to grim phrases of determination.

CONCLUSION:   If the meandering structure, and the resulting loss of narrative momentum, can be corrected, JOY RIDE will realize its full potential.

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