The Hitcher (2007)


Terrible in a way that makes you resent the whole craft of filmmaking, the Platinum Dunes-produced remake of The Hitcher is somehow able to be even more contrived, uninspired and ham-fisted than their earlier brain-dead efforts at retooling The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Amityville Horror. I realize that the TCM remake had its fans, but I can?t imagine anyone forgiving enough to have anything positive to say about this empty-headed, unscary muddle of car crashes and music video imagery.

Opening with a fake-looking shot of CGI roadkill that immediately telegraphs the movie?s blend of cheap sadism and bald-faced implausibility, The Hitcher follows buff, pop music-loving college couple Jim and Grace (One Tree Hill star Sophia Bush) on a spring break road trip across the desert Southwest. But on a rainy night in the middle of nowhere, Jim nearly runs down a hitchhiker with his vintage Olds muscle car. Sensing that something must be wrong with the stranger on the road (he was standing in the middle of the highway, after all), the couple drives on, only to encounter him again at a rest stop a little further on. Taking pity on the stranded hitcher ? as in the first film, named John Ryder, but this time played by a different blonde foreigner, Englishman Sean Bean ? they allow him in the car for a short ride to a nearby motel. Bad move ? Ryder pulls a blood-encrusted knife and nearly stabs them both, but Jim manages to kick him out of the moving car. Unfortunately, Grace?s cell phone goes with him and the two find themselves stranded, simultaneously terrorized by the homicidal stranger and chased by the police as Ryder frames the innocent-looking couple for his subsequent murders.

I have to admit that I?ve never been a big fan of the 1986 original, though I?m happy to recognize its status as a minor classic that generates a good deal of tension and sick thrills. But while the dynamic between hitcher Rutger Hauer and solo victim C. Thomas Howell was well established, and compelling for its homoerotic undertones, the film?s subsequent decline into chase thriller, with no-prior-record, clean-cut kid Howell suspected by thick-headed policemen of butchering entire families, stretched the limits of my ability to suspend disbelief.

Compared to this Michael Bay-produced exercise in empty style, however, the earlier film seems as tightly-constructed as a John le Carré spy novel. Although it?s clear to the audience early in the film that Ryder doesn?t want to actually kill the two leads ? he has ample opportunities to, without actually doing so ? the cerebrally-challenged kids continue to avoid confronting him and, when presented with the chance over and over again, refuse to just shoot him and end their torment. Furthermore, Ryder?s enigmatic death wish ? the only thing approaching a motivation the original gave for the killer?s actions ? has been reduced here to a couple of lines from Bean asking Bush to shoot him.

There?s even some unintentional humor, as the filmmakers situate a mundane but necessary dialogue exchange in the midst of a shower make-out scene! But the height of brain-addled hilarity comes during the centerpiece police chase sequence. The original?s silly-looking flip of two cop cars is overshadowed tenfold here, as Ryder channels Mad Max and takes out a half-dozen police cars and a helicopter with nothing more than a pistol, all to the crankin? beat of Nine Inch Nails? ?Closer?. (Does this suggest that Ryder indeed wants to fuck Jim like an animal, thus bringing back the original film?s homoerotic subtext?) I can imagine that the filmmakers conceived this scene, like the significant addition of a girlfriend to the original two-character setup, as a 21st-century improvement over the original ? ?more is better? certainly being the mantra behind all of Michael Bay?s directorial efforts. But in the same way that having a second passenger in the car defuses most of the tension of driving alone down the road and encountering a creepy hitchhiker, turning the chase scene (and most of the other highway-bound sequences) into a setpiece for CGI-enhanced explosions and elaborate stunt sequences (with a top 40 musical accompaniment, no less) catapults the movie into music video territory ? appropriately, as that?s where director Dave Meyers comes from ? devoid of any reality, and therefore of any menace.

Witness the notorious ?truck pull? sequence from the original, which is restaged here the same way as before, only this time we actually get to see what happens to its unlucky victim ? and it looks just as fake as that CGI rabbit from the opening. I understand that the lesson will be lost on Mr. Bay and company, but fellas, sometimes ?subtle? is scarier.