- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

Following his forgettable 1996 flop "Unforgettable" and the medium 1998 Matt Damon vehicle "Rounders," director John Dahl (known for "The Last Seduction" and "Red Rock West") gets back on track with his manic chase flick Joy Ride. It's our…

Video pick of the week
"Joy Ride"(new from 20th Century Fox, priced for rental VHS, $27.95 DVD) is sort of a cross between Steven Spielberg's "Duel" and Robert Harmon's "The Hitcher." Paul Walker stars as Lewis Thomas, a college student heading from Colorado to New Jersey, who picks up his perennial screw-up older brother Fuller (an ever-reliable Steve Zahn) on his way to collect potential girlfriend Venna (Leelee Sobieski). As the sibs undertake the first lap of their journey, they play a CB trick on a nearby trucker, promising a midnight tryst with an imaginary hottie. When the prank backfires bigtime, the race is on to escape the 18-wheeler weirdo, who just happens to be a serial killer.
As in Mr. Spielberg's "Duel," the blue-highway meanie is never clearly seen (though we do hear his mega-menacing voice), while, like "The Hitcher," he runs his intended targets now joined by Venna through a series of humiliating and sadistic stunts. Mr. Dahl keeps the pace swift and the twists inventive, though he apparently ran into a last-reel roadblock: The DVD contains no fewer than four (count 'em) four alternate endings, three filmed in their entirety, the fourth a mix of footage and storyboards.
Two of the endings play well the one that Mr. Dahl and screenwriters Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams ultimately went with (which leaves the truck door open for a sequel), and an "original" climax that takes a different turn. One is more cliched and the fourth and fifth … well, we've set a three-ending limit to our DVD viewing. So we'll leave it to you to decide which wind-up works best. In keeping with the general confusion, "Joy Ride" also had three working titles: "Candy Cane," "Highway Horror" and "Squelch." Still, by any other name "Joy Ride" rates as an ultra-tense trip guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your couch.

In tele-video developments, HBO Home Video debuts Oz: The Complete First Season in a 3-DVD box set containing all eight episodes of that controversial prison drama's rookie skein, starring Ernie Hudson, Terry Kinney, Edie Falco of "The Sopranos," Rita Moreno and Tony Musante. Among the multiple extras are two audio commentaries (by series creator Tom Fontana and actor Lee Tergesen), deleted scenes with commentary by Mr. Fontana, the music video "Behind the Walls" by Kurupt, along with a featurette, episode previews and more. The DVD set is tagged at $64.99.
The same label likewise introduces the cable TV movie Conspiracy (priced for rental VHS, $29.95 DVD), with Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth, dramatizing the 1942 Nazi meeting that sealed the fate of 6 million Jews, dissidents and other "undesirables" during World War II. Bonus materials include two featurettes and running audio commentary by director Frank Pierson.
The ubiquitous Mr. Branagh also takes the title role in the four-hour A&E; Original Movie Shackleton ($59.98 DVD, $39.95 VHS), an epic account of the famed polar explorer's disastrous 1914 "endurance" expedition, during which he and his crew found themselves hopelessly adrift on glacial floats. The 3-DVD set includes an additional 200 minutes of archival footage, along with the 50-minute featurette "The Making of 'Shackleton.' "

No slacker
Texas-based auteur Richard Linklater (of "Slackers" and "The Newton Boys") proves himself anything but a slacker as not one but two new films hit video store shelves this month after limited theatrical releases. Lion's Gate Entertainment bows the digital-video drama Tape , set in a motel and starring recent Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke (of "Training Day"). 20th Century Fox issues Mr. Linklater's surreal philosophical inquiry Waking Life , featuring "Dazed and Confused" alum Wiley Wiggins and employing "rotoscope" techniques that transform live actors into animated figures. Both titles will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.

Phan mail
Dear Phantom : I thought that you might be able to answer a genre-generated question: Is there any chance that Buck Rogers will make it to DVD any time in the near future? (I'm talking about the Erin Gray and the little "Twiki the Robot" version television show, of course.) Thanks.
John, Disputanta, Va.
Movies Unlimited carries eight volumes of the 1979-1981 "Buck Rogers" teleseries ($14.99 each), though only on VHS at present.

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