Rated R, 83 min. Directed by Dave Meyers. Starring Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton, Kyle Davis, Neal McDonough.
Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes production company continues strip-mining the horror films of my youth with this pointless remake of Robert Harmon's 1986 genre semiclassic. First came Bay's The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre retoolings (bigger, louder, dumber), and now this. I'm beginning to take this personally. This new version of The Hitcher (the script is credited to Jake Wade Wall and Eric Bernt) keeps most of the plot points of the original intact while completely botching the suspense that Harmon's film generated through sheer force of will. (It certainly didn't hurt matters that Harmon cast the terminally fearless Rutger Hauer in the title role.) When teen hottie couple Jim (Knighton, in the original's C. Thomas Howell role) and Grace (Bush) kindly but foolishly offer a lift to roadside mystery vagabond John Ryder (Bean doing Rutger Hauer doing Satan), their spring break bacchanal ricochets into the preposterously overblown (and for a Michael Bay-produced film, that's saying a lot). Ryder immediately begins to play both head and heart games with the pair, whose efforts to rid themselves of this anti-karmic cipher only lead to more bad juju. Is Ryder some supernatural force beyond the laws of physics, as much of his mayhem would suggest? Or is he just the sort of wrong place/wrong time pickup your parents warned you against? This Hitcher doesn't seem to care much either way, although Harmon's original film never went too far in the reality department either. What made Harmon's film a classic of the genre was twofold: Eric Red's twisty-tight script, which served as that film's ramrod backbone, and Meyer's fine, panoramic direction, which, like Stephen Spielberg's Duel a decade before, placed a lone rider amid the vast, inhospitable spaces of the American West. The first film was near-mythic in its tone and treatment of its characters, while this remake barely serves as a primer in how not to generate suspense. Hey, if you really want to generate a solid case of the screaming meemies, Google the L.A. Weekly's January 2006 article on the hitchy misadventures of screenwriter (and former Texan) Eric Red. Now that's creepy.
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