Wow, who would’ve thought that a film could make you yearn for the presence of both Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell? Well, Platinum Dunes have managed to do just that with their revamp of the borderline classic 1986 roadside slasher “The Hitcher”, adding more guns, more gore, and more skin courtesy of Sophia Bush (albeit of the legs and shoulder variety), yet neglecting to add even a semblance of the creepiness of the original.
Jim (Knighton) and Grace (Bush) are your average generic young couple, traveling across a barren stretch of highway, and doing generic movie-couple things. They fight, they kiss, and they rarely look at the rode while driving. One can hardly fault them for doing something entirely out of character (if you can call the blank slates written here characters) when they pick up Ryder (Bean) during a storm (get it? Ryder in a storm? Riders on the Storm? Same gag as the original, but I only just caught it because I’m slow like that). As in the original, the hitchhiker turns out to be a total psychopath, and the driver becomes the patsy for his killing spree. Unlike the original, though, Jim has Grace to share in the blame and workload, and Grace, ultimately, becomes the heroine, here, handling guns like a seasoned marksmen (that is, when she doesn’t have to pee). While Jim and Grace find themselves running from the police while trying to stop Ryder, the titular antagonist slinks along beside them, killing off much of the New Mexico State Police force.
Note to self; Make sure to go on next crime spree in New Mexico.
The original The Hitcher worked because it was a cheap, dark, and somewhat witty game of cat and mouse between a resourceful slacker and a psycho killer that used the wide open desert and small town mentality to the advantage of both story and budget. In this retooling, things are taken to jaw-dropping excess (like when Ryder dispatches a helicopter) and the creepy intimacy of the original film is thrown out the window in favor of grand scale set pieces, explosions, and an overabundance of gore for gore’s sake (not that there's anything wrong with that, but still...).
Bean does an admirable job with what he’s given to work with, imbuing his Ryder with a sort of cocky, smarmy sense of humor about what it is he’s doing, but the character comes off as more of a half-cocked pit-bull than the calculating and vaguely forlorn killing machine Rutger Hauer introduced two decades ago, and, as a result, less dangerous. Knighton and Bush are certainly pretty enough to draw in a large teen contingent, but both offer up performances that are lighter than air.
In the end it comes down to why remake a film like The Hitcher at all? The original was an out-of-left-field surprise in its day, but that was mostly due to the fact that the horror genre was mired in a sea of formulaic slashers. The Hitcher became a cult-sensation not because it was a great film, but simply because it was a decent one in a time when most horror movies plain sucked. I can certainly understand wanting to revisit the theme of this movie if the filmmakers had any sort of concrete plan of how to improve upon it, but all they managed to do was make it louder, bloodier, and sillier.
C. Thomas deserve better than that, man.