THE HITCHER (Dave Meyers, 2007)
Haven't hitchhikers gone the way of the dodo? Maybe I don't drive on enough lonely country roads to encounter people trying to thumb rides, but in this day and age, who would pick them up anyway? Whether hitchhiking is extinct is irrelevant despite the title of THE HITCHER, a remake of the 1986 film of the same name. The villain might as well be everymaniac, his preferred method of acquiring transportation aside.
Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton) and Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush) are headed to spring break in Lake Havasu when he almost creams a shadowy figure standing in the middle of the road at night during a downpour. The man's car appears to be broken down, but rather than be good Samaritans, the freaked out couple chooses to speed away.
Several miles later Jim and Grace stop at a gas station to refuel his muscle car and themselves. He asks the clerk if he can send a tow truck, but a driver isn't available. Not long after that a rig drops off a soggy man named John Ryder (Sean Bean). The dimwitted station attendant quickly points out that this must be the guy Jim nearly hit, putting him in an uncomfortable situation with the stranger. Against his better judgment and Grace's wishes, Jim agrees to give John a ride to a hotel in the nearest town.
Sure enough, once they're on the road John pulls a knife on Grace and threatens to kill them both. They manage to wiggle out of the situation and eject John from the car, but the nightmare has just begun. The next day on the highway they see that John has obtained a lift from a family. They try to warn them, but it's too late. Jim wrecks his car. John slaughters the family and takes off. When Jim and Grace drive the murdered family's station wagon to the next populated area, they are suspected of the crime. Their worries with the law are secondary, though. John isn't done with them yet.
Too silly and stupid to be scary, THE HITCHER speeds along with no regard for logic. More thought probably went into picking the Oldsmobile 442 for Jim to drive than anything else in the screenplay. Considering the ease with which John finds Jim and Grace every time, he must have implanted tracking devices in them. If they hopped a charter plane to Alaska, one expects John would be there to greet them when they landed. He must stock multiple caches of weapons in the countryside with how well armed he is at all times. When he tries to drop a pickup truck on the college students' heads, he must have had a crane nearby as well.
Topping those howlers is a big chase, inexplicably set to Nine Inch Nails' "Closer", in which John manages to wipe out multiple police cars and a helicopter pursuing Jim and Grace. The kicker is that the couple is still believed to be responsible for the mayhem. None of the officers must have thought to report the other car. And don't get me started on the idiocy with how the final scene sets up the film's payoff.
Horror film protagonists aren't known for being Rhodes scholars, but that's what they look like in comparison to Jim and Grace. They make the worst possible decisions at every turn, which does have the side benefit of making THE HITCHER so bad it's funny. Also, the film raises the issue that it's time for a moratorium on the annoying movie habit of someone being behind the wheel while the driver's head and eyes are 45 degrees to the right.
Unlike the recent remake of BLACK CHRISTMAS and prequel THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING, THE HITCHER doesn't bother with needless backstory for John. Is it really necessary to know that the killers had unimaginably abusive childhoods, especially when such scenes are virtually the same from horror film to horror film? Omitting these scenes doesn't make THE HITCHER better, but it spares the audience from clumsy psychology. All that's essential here is that John is a killing machine.
If THE HITCHER were more interested in tone than action theatrics, it might have fulfilled its premise satisfactorily. The idea of being trapped in the middle of nowhere with a dangerous stranger has potential, but the film never gives a good sense of how isolated they are. Bad as most of JEEPERS CREEPERS was, the opening section effectively established the protagonists' distance from help. THE HITCHER is too impatient and starved for blood to let the atmosphere build.
The most frightening thing in THE HITCHER has nothing to do with the film on screen. When Grace watches THE BIRDS on the hotel TV, it's a reminder that HITCHER producer Michael Bay has long been rumored to remake the Hitchcock classic. Hopefully that's one movie murder that can be avoided.