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NEW YORK — Arriving merely two decades after the original, the new version of “The Hitcher” continues the craze for remakes of horror movies geared to a new generation of teenagers. Sadly, it also continues the tendency of them to be even worse than the originals. While the 1986 edition was no classic, it’s light years better than this update, which naturally opened without being screened for those ultimate villains, the critics.
Sean Bean steps into the formidable shoes of the truly creepy Rutger Hauer in the title role of the hitchhiker from hell. While the actor delivers a performance of requisite fierceness, his efforts are hamstrung by the screenplay’s increasing level of silliness — like the fact that his character manages to decimate nearly the entire police population of the American Southwest.
Tautly paced and signaling its level of sadism in the opening seconds with a shot of a cute bunny being reduced to road kill, the film depicts the efforts of a pair of hapless college students on a road trip, Jim (Zachary Knighton) and Grace (Sophia Bush), to avoid becoming victims of their pickup, who seems particularly focused on making their lives hell even at the expense of his own safety. Not content to merely terrorize them, he also manages to frame them for a series of murders, with the result that they wind up becoming fugitives from justice.
The screenplay’s level of laziness is signaled by this observation by Grace while being pursued by a dozen police cars and a swooping helicopter: “This is bad.”
The scene from the original most cherished by horror fans, involving one of the characters threatened with being torn apart by two trucks, is dutifully reprised, with a predictable upping of the ante.
Knighton and Bush are reasonably effective as the would-be victims, though the latter is less than convincing when forced to go into vengeful Lara Croft mode. Neal McDonough, as a sympathetic police lieutenant, wears his Stetson in convincing fashion.
The inevitable hard rock soundtrack includes classics of nihilism like Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.”
Probably the nerviest move on filmmaker Dave Meyers’ part was to include a clip from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” well demonstrating just how far we’ve descended when it comes to cinematic suspense.
A Rogue Pictures and Intrepid Pictures presentation in association with Michael Bay of a Platinum Dunes production
Director: Dave Meyers
Screenwriter: Eric Red, Jade Wade Wall, Eric Bernt
Producers: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, Charles Meeker, Alfred Haber
Director of photography: James Hawkinson
Production designer: David Lazan
Editor: Jim May
Music: Steve Jablonsky
Costume designer: LeeAnn Radeka
John Ryder: Sean Bean
Grace Andrews: Sophia Bush
Jim Halsey: Zachary Knighton
Lt. Esteridge: Neal McDonough
Bufords’ store clerk: Kyle Davis
Running time — 90 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival