The Hitcher

Movie Information

The Story: A young couple on college break pickup a psychotic hitchhiker, and homicidal high jinks ensue. The Lowdown: A young couple on college break pickup a psychotic hitchhiker, and homicidal high jinks ensue.
Genre: Horror Thriller
Director: Dave Meyers
Starring: Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton, Neal McDonough
Rated: R

Apart from wasting 84 minutes of my time and helping to ensure my continued gainful employment, I can find no justification whatsoever for the existence of Dave Meyer’s The Hitcher. It’s not scary. It’s not tense. It’s not even unintentionally funny. In fact, it’s just not much of anything.

I don’t object to the idea of remaking a movie that’s only 20 years old (Warner Bros. made no less than three versions of The Maltese Falcon between 1931 and 1941, though that was more reasonable in those pre-TV, pre-home-video days.) And I’m not going to get all bent about the new version “defiling a classic,” since the first version was hardly a classic. In fact, it was nothing more than an urban legend affair that came out of left field and garnered a certain cult distinction thanks to the infamous “truck pull” scene (duplicated here with a switch in characters) and an inescapable gay subtext (completely missing here). I’m not surprised by either the inclusion of the former or the omission of the latter in this version — especially the omission of the latter since nothing so alarms nervous fan boys like gay subtext. (Just check out the IMDb message boards on the 1986 film.)

In the original, a lone driver, Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell), picks up the murderous hitcher, John Ryder (Rutger Hauer), and manages to escape his homicidal attempt. However, Halsey then finds himself pursued by the guy, who leaves an array of corpses in Halsey’s wake, resulting in the dead appearing to have been killed by Halsey. The cat-and-mouse game Ryder plays has distinct homoerotic overtones of a twisted sadomasochistic stripe (Ryder as much flirts with Halsey as torments him). This is even more apparent when Halsey picks up a waitress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whose presence only further riles Ryder in a way that seems like jealousy. This at least afforded the simple plot the illusion of some kind of depth that’s completely missing from the remake, which has been dumbed-down to the level of a generic slice-and-dice exercise of the lamest kind.

Now, we have Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton, The Prince and Me) and his girlfriend Grace (Sophia Bush, Supercross) on their way to spring vacation in Jim’s 1970 Olds 442 (one of several apparent attempts to evoke Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers (2001)), while a generic collection of college-alternative rock plays without much purpose on the soundtrack. They run afoul of Ryder (Sean Bean), and … well, the rest is exactly what you’d expect — only perhaps a little bit less.

Zachary Knighton is cosmically vapid, while Sophia Bush displays the same weighty acting talent she displayed so beautifully in Supercross (2005). It’s utterly impossible to care whether or not they live or die. In fact, I was sorry Ryder missed when he attempted to drop an entire SUV on them (no, I’m not kidding). Sean Bean seems more ill-tempered than anything else. Perhaps he finally got around to reading the script by Jake Wade Wall (When a Stranger Calls) and Eric Bernt (Romeo Must Die) — a tome so dim-witted that anyone might turn homicidal.

The direction by music video director Dave Meyers is never more than adequate — his best moment occurs in the film’s first shot when a jackrabbit meets an untimely demise attempting to emulate the legendary road-crossing chicken. As pure shock, this one moment is nicely done, but nothing else comes near it — unless you’re still impressed by lots of car carnage (you didn’t think producer Michael Bay’s name was on the film for nothing, did you?) and uninventive mayhem for its own sake. Rated R for strong bloody violence, terror and language.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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