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Last weekend in a movie theater, I overheard the celluloid gods deliver the following message to Leelee Sobieski: “All is forgiven.” To explain: After following up Eyes Wide Shut with the dismal, ludicrous, so-bad-how-did-it-get-made “thriller” The Glass House, Sobieski seemed doomed to obscurity. Until, that is, her vehicle for redemption, director John Dahl’s Joy Ride, rolled in off the turnpike, bad to the bone and scary as hell. By the time Sobieski’s character, a tight-T-shirt-wearing college student named Venna, hooks up with brothers Fuller (Steve Zahn) and Lewis (Paul Walker), about halfway through, the movie has already delivered more jolts—and, even tougher to do, more laughs—than the last five Hollywood thrillers jammed together. After their ill-advised practical joke on a creepy trucker named “Rusty Nail” backfires, costing an innocent man his entire lower jaw, Fuller and Lewis—and, later, Venna—find themselves pursued by the murderous, possibly supernatural trucker. Dahl, whose The Last Seduction remains a classic of the neo-noir genre, knows how to generate suspense like nobody’s business; witness the scene in Joy Ride when Rusty Nail stalks our three adventurers through a cornfield in the dead of night. Helping him create white-knuckle dread here are screenwriters Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams, who keep their characters’ MO simple: Crack wise and run like the devil. It helps, too, that Zahn and Walker are handsome, able performers who actually look like brothers and have real chemistry between them. Sobieski, for her part, does what she does best: pouts and cries and looks alternately tough/sexy/panicked—in other words, exactly what she did in The Glass House. But in the infinitely smarter, more suspenseful Joy Ride, what was once annoying becomes sublime. —Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa