Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Dave Meyers

Cast: Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton, Sean Bean, Neal McDonough

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, terror and language)

Running Time: 1:23

Release Date: 1/19/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

In case you were wondering if 2007 would usher in any more horror movie remakes, here's The Hitcher. A retooling of the 1986 cult favorite, the movie features plenty of excessive blood and gore, occasional moments of explicit violence, and two heroes who get dumber and dumber as the story progresses. I learn this is the second feature attempt of music video director Dave Meyers, but thankfully, The Hitcher is not a hack and slash editing job. Apart from one incredibly over-the-top sequence, Meyers' roots don't show, and he has an average sense of suspense, which is saying something after enduring a slate of new horror directors intent on the grotesque. Certainly there's a decent list of gruesome moments here, and they betray the paranoia-laden attempts of the script in favor of needless bloodletting. Worse, though, are the growingly ludicrous actions and inactions of almost every character in the movie. The screenplay by Eric Red (who wrote the original), Jake Wade Wall, and Eric Bernt plays out like a checklist of things not to do in the situation at hand. The only smart one here is the villain, but even he benefits a lot from the stupidity of those around him.

We open on a desert highway where a very digital bunny makes its way across the road only to be run down. The same highway is soon to be the path to spring break fun in New Mexico for Grace (Sophia Bush) and Jim (Zachary Knighton), who are on the way to visit Grace's friends so they can meet her new beau. And what a nice boyfriend he is, stopping immediately after they leave so she can go to the bathroom. After establishing the depth of their relationship with this single action, the couple is on the road again (apparently listening to the same song the entire trip).  While a very digital dragonfly makes a mild inconvenience on the windshield, a thunderstorm that hits after crossing into the Land of Enchantment and Jim's constantly taking his eyes off the road almost cause a collision with a shadowy hitchhiker. A few miles down the road, Grace and Jim stop at a gas station, and the hitcher named John Ryder (Sean Bean) arrives as well. He asks for a ride to a nearby motel, and Jim agrees, despite Grace's disapproval. While he seemed harmless before, Ryder turns out to be a sociopath.

The movie hits its high point early on in the first confrontation between Ryder and his helpers. It's an intense, claustrophobic standoff, Ryder holding a knife to Grace, trying to force Jim into sacrificing himself for her. From there on, though, the movie is pretty much downhill. It's unfortunate for Sean Bean, who plays his first scene as Ryder with such disarming charm. For the rest of the movie, he's left to play menacing, which he does quite well, but it's a shame there's not much more to the character beyond a scowl and some occasional psychotic banter once the plot gets in motion. The plot proper involves Grace and Jim being wrongly accused of Ryder's subsequent murders, and the whole affair could have been settled a bit sooner if they only had half a brain between them. The hitchhiker is one thing (and Jim eating a hot dog from the gas station is another), but the escalation of the situation is inversely proportional to their IQ levels. At a police station, Ryder kills the entire staff, leaving the couple to take the fall. For some unknowable reason, they run. "Our help is dead," Grace scolds Jim. Yes, and all those state police officers who show up are just decoration.

Then again, the cops in this movie are equally dense if not denser, so maybe running is the best option. Thankfully, one member of the state police (played by Neal McDonough) at first sees the obvious existence of a third party, but even he succumbs to the script's necessity to continue on, common sense be damned. Take the first climax, in which Ryder has someone chained to two trucks, getting ready to move one of them forward. How the cops are unable to assess what's going on is baffling, and this is after Ryder manages to destroy three police cars and a helicopter with a single pistol. That scene (somehow appropriately set to Nine Inch Nails' "Closer"), while completely preposterous, is appealing in its absurdity. The scene is slickly shot by cinematographer James Hawkinson, and the entire movie has a foreboding look, occasionally interrupted by some stunning vista shots of the New Mexico landscape. The script, though, falters especially in its denouement-as-final-act. Just when the movie should be winding down, it kicks into high gear one last time for a pointless confrontation on the freeway, neatly cleaning up loose ends that would have been better left dangling.

As for the gory details, there are a few things here I could have gone my entire life without seeing: a close-up of a dog licking the open wounds of a corpse, a close-up of a slit throat, and, worst of all, the end result of someone being ripped apart by a semi-truck. Thankfully, The Hitcher doesn't wallow in these moments, and the whole thing is well arranged. This could have been a polished piece of demented entertainment, but the workings of the script are far too transparent.

Copyright 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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