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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English - Hearing Impaired

    Road Kill (Rental)

    20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 93 mins . MA15+ . PAL


    Thereís so much thatís already been done on a grand scale in the world of the genre thriller that the basics seem, more often than not, to get left behind in the wake of the big-budget set-pieces and big-salary stars, and the visual pyrotechnics that apparently pass for originality in a creatively bankrupt mainstream Hollywood. The pointís so often completely missed. A genre movie swallows up everything thatís gone before it and spits it out on the screen with shameless pride, the writer and director knowing full well that it ainít what you do, itís the way that you do it - and thatís what gets results.

    Everyone loves a car chase, especially when the people being chased are the good guys and particularly when those doing the chasing are an unseen (and, even better, unknown) enemy. Everyone loves a good road movie, too, especially when it comes with a dose of the menace of unfamiliar territory and unexplained evil against a picture-perfect scenic backdrop. Combine the two, and youíve got yourself a recipe for a cracking audience-pleaser, as long as you do it right. Steven Spielberg cooked up a classic in the genre three decades ago with his debut film Duel, Robert Harmon created a menacing classic with The Hitcher, John Carpenter brought Stephen Kingís menacing small-town variation on the theme to graphic life in Christine, and Jonathan Mostow took the isolation factor to new heights with 1997ís Breakdown. There have been dozens of others; this is a genre where originality is, for once, not paramount. Whatís needed is a set of characters the audience can relate to on a basic level, a story that keeps moving at a solid pace and a director and editor who know how to work an audience without wearing out their welcome. Road Kill - originally released in the US as Joy Ride - fits the bill perfectly. A solid thriller with a spot-on sense of timing and a knack for taking itself just seriously enough to be credible, without ever tempting the audience to look too deep into the plot.

    Lewis Thomas (Paul Walker) offers to pick up his friend Venna (Leelee Sobieski) from college at the end of semester, solving the small problem of him not having a car by going out and buying one, after cashing in a plane ticket. Equipped with his Duel-era classic wheels and enjoying the freedom of the open road, he decides to pick up his brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) from prison before heading to see Venna. Fuller, mischievous and rather stoopid, immediately installs a CB radio in his brotherís car and talks him into playing along with a prank, fooling a remote CB user into believing heís a woman that wants to meet at a motel for a bit of, err, truck stop action. But when the victim of their prank takes it very personally, things quickly get out of hand, and the hunt begins...

    Itís all pretty standard stuff, but director John Dahl is an expert at this kind of thing - he started his career with road-noir thrillers like Kill Me Again and Red Rock West, after all, and knew even back then how to make something very familiar seem fresh and invigorated. And so what could have been just another dumb teens-get-chased movie becomes a stylishly mounted, hugely entertaining romp that uses every second of its 90 minute length to a purposeful end. Thereís character development, but not too much - just enough to serve the story and establish a little more depth. The action scenes are tightly edited, terrifically shot and acted with gusto by all concerned, and the suspense elements are neatly integrated into the rest of the film without calling attention to themselves, gently unnerving the audience without them even realising itís happening. The screenplay, conceived and co-written by Alias (and Felicity!) creator JJ Abrams, is key to the success of this film, and it rarely puts a foot wrong; where it lapses briefly into silliness, Dahl promptly turns it into a subtle joke. Abrams and Dahl make a terrific creative pairing; they both know theyíre working inside a genre, and they make sure to have enormous fun with it. And so, as a result, does the audience.


    Shot at a 2.35:1 Ďscope ratio using anamorphic lenses, Road Kill should only be seen in its full widescreen format; cinematographer Jeff Jur makes constant clever use of the whole frame, and the effect of many shots would be completely lost in a pan-and-scan version. Fortunately, Fox has come to the party with a terrific 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer, and itís virtually flawless throughout. Itís particularly impressive during the many scenes that use heavily-saturated red or green light, something that the colour grader on this transfer has taken full advantage of. Elsewhere, there are scenes that look more washed-out - both at night and during the day - which, like those where the shadow detail collapses to almost zero during a couple of key moments, is probably an intentional creative decision made during the transfer. That said, a few of the desaturated day shots have a somewhat soft-focussed look to them, maybe because the rest of the transfer is so brilliantly sharp by comparison. We only noticed because we were looking for anything even slightly awry; normal viewers wonít notice a thing out of place.

    Like all of Foxís recent discs, thereís absolutely nothing to complain about in the video compression department, even with plenty of space spare on the single-layered disc. Whatever encoder theyíre using these days, itís a good one.


    A genre film like this can get great mileage out of a flamboyant and involving soundtrack, and the audio team on Road Kill have taken full advantage of the resources available to them. This is an absolute knockout of a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix, making use of all six discrete channels with wild abandon and the certain knowledge that audiences hearing this on a capable sound system are in for a wild ride. The front channels are expertly used to create a realistic sound stage that is then brought into the third dimension by the split surrounds, which play a key role in the action sequences and are extensively used elsewhere to create immersive atmospheres. The LFE channel, meanwhile, is an almost constant barrage of bass thatís actually integrated well into the rest of the soundtrack for once, serving to enhance the realism of the on-screen action rather than mindlessly biffing the audience around the body with bottom end like many current mixes. When a truck thunders past in the rain outside a motel, you nearly duck for cover - it sounds that good.

    Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout, and the music score (in full flamboyant 5.1) sounds terrific. A superb soundtrack all round (and a one-man mix, too!)


    The three (THREE!) commentaries, extended scene, three alternate endings (one of them reportedly 28 minutes long), featurettes and trailer included on the US release are all missing here, which is not at all surprising, as this is a Fox rental disc with the generic Fox rental menu system (with copyright notices and coding, by the way, for both regions 2 and 4). Hopefully all the extras will make it to the sell-through version when it arrives, though the retitling of the film for the UK and Australia means weíll probably have to settle for whateverís been offered to the UK, rather than the exact content from the US disc. Either way, weíll let you know when the time comes.


    No, itís not Schindlerís List and itís not Citizen Kane. If youíre looking for depth and intellect here, you just hired the wrong DVD. Sure, the filmís not a thesis on the decline of modern civilization and the dawning of the second age of enlightenment. But itís still got smarts. Road Kill may be a genre film with a generic title, but itís a cut above the usual fodder thanks to a savvy script, sharp direction and a great cast that know how to be over the top while bringing the audience along for the (joy) ride.

    Foxís rental DVD offers the movie in a near-perfect widescreen transfer with kick-ass sound, and absolutely no extras. Which, for renters, is all thatís needed.

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      And I quote...
    "Sure, the filmís not a thesis on the decline of modern civilization and the dawning of the second age of enlightenment. But itís still got smarts."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
    • Surrounds:
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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