Riding with Strangers:
A Hitchhiker's Journey
by Elijah Wald
(Hardcover on sale from Amazon)
Producer Andrew Form recalls (in the press notes) when he and his co-producers at Rogue Pictures were looking for a next project they screened the 1986 original "The Hitcher" (with Rutger Hauer) and agreed, "This is exactly what we need to do..." After seeing their remake, some might disagree. What we found here is that first time director Dave Meyer's claim to be more concerned with the story than any other factor was mostly lip service. Or, could he be thinking that this is a story?.
The first challenge to that premise is his arch villain wiping people out like insects on a windshield for no reason at all. Yes, there's no explanation even suggested for the mass mayhem, just the enjoyment of the kill and the proof of the killer's uncanny and totally unbelievable success at being in the wrong place at the wrong time for his victims. The man doesn't only have timing that would put an atomic clock to shame, but he's able to bring down a small fleet of cop cars on a highway and cap it off by taking a police chase helicopter out of the sky. With a handgun at around 60.
The object here doesn't have a whole lot to do with the structures of storytelling. It's a typically superficial take on the formula to bring horror fans into the theatre and, once there, satisfy their appetite for gore and a little human shredding. Forget nuance, taste, character development or any of those disregardable devices. Just keep the amps, the shocks and the mph up.
Curiously, after having said that, it should be added that there is a level of enjoyment here for those who can put logic and credulity aside. Action, beauty -- even a stab at suspense. (No pun intended) You've just got to ignore that everyone except the hitcher makes dumb, asinine choices that not so coincidentally provide opportunity for this animal's slashing havoc-creation, and well-placed bullet holes.
Meyers' team of writers (Eric Red and Jake Wade Wall and Eric Bernt), are the blood-filled pens behind the plot, and it's clear that they set out to do things differently than the original. First chore was to find a way to put the stranded man into Jim Halsey's (Zachary Knighton) car as he and luscious girlfriend Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush) are driving to their spring break getaway with her folks. The writers surprise us for a second when the two innocents don't fall for the poor man standing in the rain at night.
Yes, in a spurt of rare good judgement, they actually drive off, stopping at a gas station for a refill. Don't you know John Ryder (Sean Bean: aka, "the Hitcher") winds up there as well, seeking a ride to the next motel. When the hapless store clerk (Kyle Davis) suggests (in front of the guy) that the couple take the man a few miles down the road, well, how can you turn him down?
Thus starts the turning of a very promising pleasure trip into a trail of murder, murder attempts, an unexplained targetting of our hero and heroine, a frame-up, dumb-ass police work, and the kind of nightmare that seeps a trail of enough cold-bloodiness to capture the hearts of the adolescent thrill-seekers who unquestioningly support the genre.
Though the two leads have abundant appeal and make a highly attractive couple, what they go through doesn't quite make it to the engaged, visceral level. But then, you don't want to care too much when it comes to casualties of the horrific variety, and Meyers keeps it emotionally unfilling, yards away from any sense of actuality, so that you can go have dinner afterward with nary a qualm about having had your guts twisted.
Table conversation is more likely to center on Sophia Bush's top-to-toe beauty and physical fitness (probably the only reason to see the film), and Knighton's considerable young male charm. Bean isn't as scary as Hauer was nor as convincingly demonic as he might have been. Believe it or not, the writers were holding back. Meaning that all will be comfortably forgotten by dessert.
~~ Jules Brenner
The Original Hitcher DVD