When one thinks of a typical “American road movie,” perhaps “Easy Rider” comes to mind, or perhaps little at all, since very few films have recently dealt with such a theme. However, director John Dahl brings us “Joy Ride,” and he succeeds in putting the loneliness and isolation of the open road back in the spotlight.

Paul Wong
Director John Dahl gets his groove on in “”Joy Ride.””<br><br>Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

“I grew up in Montana so I spent a lot of time driving up and down empty, lonely roads, hitchhiking I was fascinated with trucks from an early age so given the opportunity to make a movie in that environment, it was pretty appealing to me, and I love taking a good road trip every now and then.”

Dahl, who also directed “Rounders” and “Red Rock West,” pretty much stumbled into directing.

Growing up in a virtually nonexistent artistic community, it was not until he attended film school for animation that he found he enjoyed film, and then directing.

When asked what was so appealing about the thriller elements in “Joy Ride,” the incredibly relaxed director replied, “I think that my favorite element is the suspense. Once you create a situation in which you can play with the suspense of a situation, it”s a lot of fun as a filmmaker to put in that kind of situation. Like at the end in the motel it”s fun to have that opportunity to use film in that way.”

Many funny moments of the film must be attributed to the actors. It seemed an easy task to pick such young and eager stars like Steve Zahn, Paul Walker and LeeLee Sobieski.

“I think that all of these three people are really good, talented young actors that have long careers in front of them. The most obvious thing to say really is that as a director, if you get the best actors, you can get your hands on it, makes your job a lot easier.”

Dahl was particularly attracted to Zahn, who he originally wanted cast in “Rounders” as the part Edward Norton ended up playing.

“I thought that he could be great at playing the likeable, asshole brother, for lack of better words. The thing is that he could remain sympathetic throughout those turns in the story. I think we all know somebody who is going to get us in trouble at some point, and understanding that relationship or dramatizing it is kind of difficult. And Steve had that right sort of combination, I think he”s really a gifted dramatic director, but he”s also incredibly funny. So that was a main draw to me.”

The balance between frightening and funny situations is balanced well in “Joy Ride,” and Dahl felt it was very important to get the audience laughing, despite a fear of what would happen next. He felt that it made the experience that much more intense.

So what”s next?

“Well, now I”m working on an independent film that my brother and I wrote called “Worst Case Scenario.” It”s about entertainment lawyers. It”s sort of a black comedy. Well, let”s put it this way: It”s funny to me, but I imagine that it”s kind of a suspense thriller to everyone else.”

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