The Hitcher
By: Rod Williams on March 19, 2007  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Director: Dave Meyers
Starring: Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton
Screenplay: Jake Wade Wall, Eric Bernt, Eric Red
Country: USA
Australian Release Date: March 13 , 2007
Distributor: Icon Fim Distribution
Running Time: 83 minutes
Groan. Well, here is another pointless remake from Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes partnership, the company responsible for reviving The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a kind of pathological recycling binge, as if reading fresh, unproduced scripts was just too much hard work. Genre fans are all too painfully aware that these 'golden oldie' horror movies spawned awful franchises that took an eternity to splutter their way into celluloid extinction. Then along comes Michael Bay and his buddies Andrew Form and Brad Fuller, who seem hell bent on plundering a film genre that can boast only a handful of real classics. Instead of breaking new ground and revitalising the genre, they would rather spend those precious investment dollars on doing what's been done before to turn a secure profit. Future 'projects' include The Birds and Friday the 13th, both of which are in the planning stages.

Double, triple, quadruple, quintuple groan.

Their latest tomb raiding expedition simply adds more bloodletting and Sophia Bush in a mini-skirt to The Hitcher, a well-executed sleeper favourite from 1986. If you've never seen that film and for some reason don't plan on tracking it down, the remake should sustain your interest levels easily enough, since the screenwriters Jake Wade Wall (When a Stranger Calls retread) and Eric Bernt (Romeo Must Die, Virtuosity) copy-pasted 95% of the original script written by Eric Red (Near Dark, Blue Steel, Body Parts), who was not involved in this remake despite getting a credit. For the rest of us, suffering through the 2007 revision is recommended for curiosity value only, or if you've seen everything currently playing in cinemas.

Changes to the original story include: (a) making Grace and Jim a couple from the start, (b) extending the sequence of events leading to John Ryder hitching the fateful ride and turning it into a moral dilema, (c) the purpose of the trip is to attend Spring Break rather than deliver a car, (d) spending more time with the injured father of the slaughtered Christian family, (e) modifying the police station sequence, (f) giving police Lieutenant Esteridge a more prominent role, (g) making Grace a stronger character to the point of promoting her to 'final girl' status, which may explain why she gets top billing in the credits, (h) almost ruining the police demolition scene with the Nine Inch Nails track 'Closer', and (j) rewriting the ending slightly. Other minor alterations and suprises are peppered throughout. Wisely, no attempt is made to explain who John Ryder is (I've always thought of him as the mysterious truck driver from Steven Spielberg's 1974 film Duel), although as The Village Voice pointed out, the remake leaves no room for interpreting John Ryder as Jim's homicidal alter ego.

The problem is that there aren't enough significant changes to justify watching this remake if you are familiar with the original movie. At best, hip-hop music video director Dave Meyers (Outkast, J-Lo, Offspring, Xzibit, NWA) and his director of photography James Hawkinson (Progeny, various music videos) have produced a polished, gorgeous looking picture that remains faithful to the haunting visual quality created by Mark Harmon (Nowhere to Run, They) and premier Aussie cinematographer John Seale in 1986. The same can be said of the effective music score by Steve Jablonsky, a mainstay of other Platinum Dunes productions such as TCM: Beginning, Amityville, and TCM. But all of this is nothing more than varnish. Another unfortunate side-effect of this literal rehash is that some actions taken by the youths, for example running off into the middle of nowhere after the police chase, play out much dumber here than in the earlier film, which has the texture of a fever dream you can't wake up from.

Thankfully the bloodier depiction of violence, supplied by make-up artists Jake Garber (Grindhouse, TCM: Beginning, The Hills Have Eyes remake, Cursed) and KNB regular Mike McCarty (Land of the Dead, From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City), scores entertainment points while staying within the parameters of acceptable mainstream carnage. For instance, this time we get to see what happens when John causes the semi cab to lurch forward and split the tethered victim like a Christmas bon-bon. But the shot is brief in the manner of Frank's (censored) death scene in Hellraiser. Interestingly, The Hitcher earned an R 18+ rating from the Australian censors. My friend Heathen and I agreed that it only deserved an MA 15+, since it was basically thriller mode all the way. The BBFC thought the same as we did (scary huh?) and gave it a 15 rating. Predictably, an unrated US DVD release is supposed to be coming out later in 2007 from Universal. Assuming there was room to move in censorship terms, perhaps turning this remake into a hardcore horror film would have been a more inspired approach to the material, if not honouring the vibe of the original.

Miscast, Sean Bean as John Ryder doesn't adhere to the vibe of the first John Ryder, either. On any day of the week he is a fine, enjoyable actor to watch. But the iconic performance by Rutger "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe" Hauer is too quirky and memorable for an orthodox thespian like Sean Bean, who may have projected more unease by using his native British accent. Lead players Sophia Bush (Van Wilder, One Tree Hill) and Zachary Knighton (Cherry Falls) acquit themselves without being distinctive. Bush, looking like a cute little hentai babe, is actually too pretty in the same distracting way that Rachel McAdams was in Wes Craven's Red Eye: any tension just drains away every time their unblemished cheerleader faces fill the screen. The same could almost be said for Knighton if he wasn't scruffed up with designer stubble and oily skater boy locks. By far the best turn comes from Neal McDonough (Star Trek: First Contact, Minority Report, Flags of Our Fathers) in his supporting role as Lieutenant Esteridge, the tough no-bullshit cop who wants to help the kids. Then again, we can't forget Jeffrey Hutchinson (The Ring II) as the Churchy dad who does a reasonable impression of a stuck pig for a goodly length of screen time. Bleed, Christian, bleed! Ahem.

Most crucially, with the pivotal role of the Hitcher stuffed up due to miscasting, the whole dynamic between Ryder and Jim – the backbone of the movie, really – was doomed from the start. In fact, the same could be said of the whole production, which has been trashed by critics. Taken in isolation, there are certainly worse movies around – this is an intense ride, make no mistake. On the other hand, its remake status and unimaginative retelling deserves nothing but contempt and scorn. Let's hope the mediocre box office takings mercy-kills any intentions of doing a sequel, prequel, or a remake of this remake.
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