Universal // 2007 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 28th, 2007
Stick Out Your Thumb and Say "ARGGGHHH!!!"
It used to be the counterculture way of moving about the country, long before SouthWest absconded with said slogan. Your average military recruit, juvenile delinquent, gal of loose virtue, or pot-loving peacenik would head out to the local off-ramp, extend his or her opposable digit, and hope a gullible driver would come along and offer a ride. Then, after the standard banter business...often referred to as "gas, grass or..." well, you know...a combustion engine would carry the lover of wanderlust anywhere they needed to go...or at least as far as the next truck stop. Of course, there were rumors, warnings about avoiding certain profile types and sections of blacktop (like in and around maximum security prisons), but for the most part, hitchhiking was viewed as something safe, not suicidal. By the time 1986's The Hitcher came along, however, the concept of a murderous thumb-jockey was nothing new. Indeed, all the film did was reconfirm everyone's deepest, darkest interstate nightmares. So what can a recent remake of this universally reviled slasher film teach us? Well, for one thing, never pick up trench coat-wearing strangers. Oh yeah, and don't count on an update of an already specious slice-and-dice being any damn good.
Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush, One Tree Hill) and Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton) are two photogenic college kids who are heading out on the open road. They intend to join their friends at far off Lake Plotpoint in what is traditionally known as Spring Break. During a freak rainstorm, they almost run into John Ryder (Sean Bean, The Island), a stranded motorist looking for a lift. Naturally, these liberal-minded youths completely ignore him. A few miles up the road, they run into Ryder again. This time, they agree to give him a ride, and thus the cobbled-together game of cat and mouse begins. See, this highway hobo is actually a psychotic serial killer, and as he carves his way across the Interstate system, he frames our clumsy coeds. Even as they manage to defeat him time and again, he keeps pursuing his blood-soaked goal. Eventually, the New Mexico State Police get involved. Led by Lieutenant Esteridge (Neal McDonough, Flag of Our Fathers), the cops simply want to stop the carnage. But Ryder has plans for our bumbling keepers of the peace, and before long, nothing is standing between The Hitcher and his prey.
The Hitcher is not actually a movie. No, it's what one imagines the gaseous by-product, or FART, of a film might look like. It certainly stinks like something released from a rancid cinematic colon, and fails to have much of an impact (or purpose) beyond producing such stench. When you consider that it was crafted after an equally tepid trouser burp from the mid '80s, a movie that was more scandalous than scary, it's no wonder this redux tosses motion-picture air biscuits at the audience. In the long lineage of features asking for the post-millennial update treatment, the original Hitcher was probably far down the list, right below The Gate and 976-Evil. But, for some inexplicable reason, executive doodad Michael Bay decided to take the Rutger Hauer/Jennifer Jason Leigh/C. Thomas howler and give it a massively mediocre music video sheen. Said TRL tendencies come courtesy of first time feature helmer Dave Meyers. But don't be fooled by his supposed novice state. This man knows terror. After all, he's made music videos for Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears. The horror...the horror...
Too bad he couldn't convince K-Fed and his panty-less ex to make cameos in this certified catastrophe. While they wouldn't have advanced the standard fear factors, they definitely would have enhanced our own inherent dread. Instead, Meyers merely lets original screen scribe Eric Red (who actually acquitted himself with scripts for Near Dark and Blue Steel) and a couple of crayon-scribbling pals revamp the original premise ever so slightly, casts a couple of no name nothings as his targeted college kids, and then turns Boromir into a homeless hunk with homicidal tendencies. Sean Bean is not bad here...in fact, he makes a pretty convincing meanie. But he's acting in another movie completely, a film with competent co-stars, a clear directorial vision, and lots of nasty blood and guts. It's a shame we can't see Mr. Bean's private mental motion picture. One is assured it is better than this bland bull barf. As a matter of fact, it's clear from the crap up on screen that if you put a thousand orangutans in front of a plethora of Powerbooks for a couple of hours, they'd come up with something equally atrocious. The Hitcher is not just illogical, it's illogically illogical. Even when it tries to make sense, it stumbles into its own sense-stifling stupidity and ends up bruised and battered.
Take the initial set-up: Grace and Jim are off to meet their pals for Spring Break. Instead of taking a plane, or some other reasonable sort of transportation, they hop into himbo's ersatz Hemi 'Cuda (with no air conditioning), avoid the superhighways, and end up in the middle of Bumfudge, New Mexico. Along the way, we hear how much they love each other and how these seven days of drunken debauchery will be the best vacation from secondary education EVER! (Aren't they all?) Anyway, we receive nothing about their past, nothing remotely resembling a personality, history or clear cut character motivation. In essence, Grace is a groin and Jim is a Johnson and that's all we need to see. Soon, the weather turns wildly atmospheric (apparently, the Southwest desert is famous for its monsoons) and before we know it, there's an eerie silhouette standing in the middle of the thunderstorm. Now, one's natural reaction is to be a good Samaritan, stop to see if there's anything you can do to help, and supply a little of that old school "golden rule' salve to the situation. But in the case of this film, the better bet is to make massive tracks, find a local gun retailer, and arm yourself to the teeth. Why? Because narrative necessity indicates that you'll be running into this reprobate sometime in the next 90 minutes, and if you don't have some armor-piercing hollow tips on you, it'll be time to ponder your inheritance tax options.
The next flaw in common sense comes when the dude you just left drowning in the rain-soaked sagebrush confronts you in a convenience store. Now, why you had to stop yet again along the way to your rendezvous with Red Bull shooters is another issue all together (let's face it, girls with squirrel bladders probably don't have your back come action sequence time), but then deciding to give this sinister, unshaven stranger an open invitation to your mobile abattoir...sorry, automobile...borders on the brain dead. After that, it's just one murderous coincidence after another, until our so-called Jack Ryder manages to frame our frisky duo, murder every law enforcement officer between Machu Picchu and Miami, and still flash a shockingly bright set of pearly whites. How the state police end up several dozen men short, how Ryder uses self-mutilation as a means of breaking out of his handcuffs, and how Jim finds himself tied up between the cab and trailer of an engine-revving Peterbilt make up the remaining components of The Hitcher's supposed scare stuff. In between, we get mediocre car crashes, some uninteresting gore, and several lessons in how not to treat killing-spree suspects. Indeed, this movie could be used by law enforcement officials nationwide as a cautionary example of how kid gloves can turn into slit throats.
It'd be nice to say that all this languid lameness pays off in the end, that Meyers makes up for 80 minutes of miserable mediocrity by turning out one of the great fright finales of all time. Right, and Amy Winehouse is a sexy, sober, virgin. What we wind up with instead is an implausibility coalesced with a couple of improbabilities, layered with lots of logistical faux pax, and topped with a totally erroneous comeuppance. It makes the previous plot points seem totally irrelevant, and nothing satisfies cinematically like a movie that feels like a waste of time. In all honesty, the reason The Hitcher fails is because everything it tries falls significantly short. Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton have no chemistry onscreen, we could care less for their characters, and part of us secretly hopes they get vivisected in a showstopping sequence of Voorhees-esque arterial spray (we only get half our wish). Sean Bean is decent, but he can't carry the entire picture. Besides, he doesn't have the inherent smirk quirk that made Hauer's turn so nihilistically cool. Still, the biggest bungle remains putting Meyers behind the lens. He doesn't have the first idea about creating terror. Hopefully The Hitcher is his last attempt at doing so.
Universal and Rogue Pictures present a fairly fleshed out DVD package of this movie macabre outrage. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen image is colorful, clear and loaded with carefully controlled contrasts. There are moments of shadow and light that almost come across as atmospheric and moody, and Meyers thankfully keeps the MTV-style editing to a minimum. On the sound side, we are forced to endure a shallow Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that only gets going when the roadway rigors require it to. Then, the speakers let out a mega-motorized whine that accurately recreates a gearhead's wettest dream. At least the dialogue is easily understandable. In addition to a lack of heft, the soundtrack here is also overloaded with bombastic examples of industrial drone metal (NIN's fabulous "Closer" excluded) and if you don't cotton to such chainsaw cock rocking, you'll definitely find your nerves frayed.
As for extras, we get quite a collection of complementary crud. First up are the standard Electronic Press Kits (or EPKs), including a superficial behind-the-scenes peek entitled "Fuel Your Fear: The Making of The Hitcher." Then there is another bland bit of ballyhoo labeled "Road Kill: The Ultimate Car Crash." Beside the fact that Grindhouse currently holds the title for best vehicle-on-vehicle fender shredding, this stunt showcase teaches us very little about the art of automotive mayhem. Next up is something called "Chronicles of a Killer." It turns out to be fake news reports that were created to play on televisions in the background during certain scenes. They're sadly similar to what you see on your local airwaves. And finally there are 20 minutes of deleted scenes, including at least three takes of the motel bedroom sequences between Ryder and the couple, and two different attempts at the ending. While gorehounds might enjoy the extended cut of Jim getting Mac Trucked in two, the rest is just routine disc filler.
Readers often complain that critics -- outsiders to a film's creative process -- never have anything positive to offer when slamming a film. Well, in the case of The Hitcher, this reviewer will go out on a limb and explain how he would salvage this scareless stool sample. First, fire everyone in the cast except Sean Bean. Make him sport a goofy goatee and grow his hair into a mangle set of Middle Earth locks. Then, bring back C. Thomas Howell as the father of the first family of victims killed, and let Rutger Hauer essay the investigating sheriff. Make Rosario Dawson and Freddy Rodriguez our couple, just a pair of drifters exploring the great South West, and add in Danny Trejo (or if he's unavailable, Bruce Campbell) as a wisecracking gas station attendant who finds himself face to face with Bean's new badass psycho. Let someone like James Gunn or Eli Roth write the script...and even better, put them behind the camera as well. Both understand the basics of the movie macabre, and have offered up nice gory takes on the genre. Finally, make the MPAA sweat over the awarding of a hard R rating, and offer it up as a substitute for summer's inevitable popcorn flops. Sounds pretty cool, right? It also illustrates everything that's wrong with this talent-free terror tripe. The Hitcher is indeed horrible. You don't need a history of highway travel to know that.
Oh boy, is this ever GUILTY! And this court is in no mood to entertain any kind of motion picture plea bargain.
Review content copyright © 2007 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Alternate Ending
* Road Kill... The Ultimate Car Crash
* Fuel You Fear... The Making of the Hitcher
* Chronicles of a Killer
* Official Site