Review: “The Hitcher”

Time has been kind to the rather bland 1986 schlock classic “The Hitcher”. It may be fondly remembered by fans, but looking back on it the film really is a rather banal little road/chase movie meets slasher flick that’s essentially a clone of Spielberg’s “Duel”. Still, even today the film has some assets – a deliciously creepy Rutger Hauer as the relentless psychopath, 80’s hot boy C. Thomas Howell as the lead, and a genuine raw sense of suspense and originality – culminating in the surprising and still shocking death in the middle of the film.

Sadly though, “Hitcher” now joins the ranks of those horror films with pointless remakes. Platinum Dunes, the production company behind this mess, have made a name for themselves with increasingly bad reduxes of what are deemed genre classics. There was some hope when their “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in 2003 actually proved quite edgy and entertaining. That hope began to dwindle with the lackluster “Amityville Horror”, followed by the odious “Chainsaw” prequel last year.

It has now hit a new low with “Hitcher”. Lambasted for being overly gory in their previous films, those involved have held back a bit on this one in favour of a more action-oriented approach. The problem is that for a chase movie to work there has to be one critical thing – a building sense of suspense. What’s surprising is that it’s not here…at all.

In fact it is almost impossible to convey just how flat this movie feels – and this is despite solid actors like Sean Bean and emerging talent like Sophia Bush. One could say that the genre simply doesn’t lend itself to that kind of intensity anymore. Yet recent road-bound stalker films like the Paul Walker thriller “Joyride” or even horror-oriented “Jeepers Creepers” were both immensely more successful at generating tension.

A lot of it comes down to the ridiculousness of the film. It’s a one-note premise after al with little in the way of plot, but scribes Jake Wade Wall and Eric Bernt have boiled away practically all the atmosphere, black humour and character from the original in favour of a pure chase approach.

Unfortunately to do that they turn Bean into a Terminator-style killing machine and towards the end Bush into Sarah Connor. Their final scene together is so laughably a rip off of T2’s ending (even the music), one half expected Bush to do that cool one-arm gun cocking trick Linda Hamilton did so well.

In one scene Bean brazenly attacks four cop cars and a police chopper from the driver’s seat of a speeding car with only a handgun – yes it’s that ridiculousness. Bean isn’t invested with any darkness either – he’s just doing it for the sake of it and is far too straightforward and serious about his approach (at least Hauer seemed to be having fun).

Not helping are our heroes – they’re young, dumb and lacking any sense of logic – a condition that seems to strike people in horror films all too often. Bush has proven to be a surprisingly good talent in other works and holds her own alright here – even as she struggles with the lack of material. Knighton is an utterly dull lead lacking in charisma or presence. The gender-reversed mack truck scene doesn’t come soon enough in this.

The horrific soundtrack of blaringly bad rock tunes combines with music video veteran Dave Meyers lackluster direction. The film has that frantic music vid style which is all about noise – something utterly wrong for this kind of movie. There are a few scant moments that work though – a tense attack in a motel (and a decent re-interpretation of the mack truck scene), Neal McDonough’s cop character and a few quite flashy car crashes.

Still they are few and far between. The whole endeavour is truly lacking in brains, credibility, tension or style. Some nice desert scenery and feelings of nostalgia don’t overcome such inept filmmaking. There’s absolutely no justification presented to validate this remake short of gorier deaths – putting this right in line with last year’s “The Omen” and “The Wicker Man” remakes in terms of sheer waste (at least Wicker has some camp value). We may only be three weeks in but we already have what’s certain to be one of the year’s biggest disappointments.