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Arts & Culture

The Hitcher

Horror remakes and sequels are still all the rage these days. The latest is

The Hitcher (opening January 19 throughout San Diego), a remake of the 1986 horror flick that featured Rutger Hauer as a sociopathic serial killer. That role is now played by Brit Sean Bean.

Sean Bean as The Hitcher

In the 1986 cult classic The Hitcher , C. Thomas Howell played Jim Halsey, a young man driving a friend's car across country. He falls asleep at the wheel and nearly collides with a truck. Then he sees a man hitchhiking in the rain. He stops, opens the car door and says half jokingly, My mom always told not to do this." Naturally he should have listened to his mom. The man calls himself John Ryder (played by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer) and hes dead set on making Jims life a living hell.

The remake of The Hitcher , keeps many of the memorable plot elements intactthe creepy hitchhiking stranger with no motive for his viciousness, the murder of an innocent family, and torture involving two semi trucks. But it also makes some changes. Jim (Zachary Knighton) is no longer making a solitary road trip. Hes got a girlfriend, Grace (Sophia Bush), and theyre hitting the road to meet up with her friends for spring break. On a rainy night, they swerve and barely miss hitting a stranger (Sean Bean) who is just standing in the middle of the road. Jim wants to offer the stranded man a ride but Grace insists they drive on. She says that the guy seems creepy and she doesnt feel safe picking him up.

The remake of The Hitcher

When the guy turns up at the gas station where they stop, he asks for a lift to a motel. Jim reluctantly obliges. The man introduces himself as John Ryder and quickly owns up to the fact that hes not a trustworthy person. He threatens the couple and then gets thrown out of the moving car. What follows is a violent rampage in which Ryder attempts to frame Jim and Grace for a series of brutal murders.

The original The Hitcher was not a great work of art but it had a gritty single-mindedness about presenting us with a character that was just nasty with no excuse. He wasnt a Halloween -style Boogeyman or a supernatural Freddy Krueger. He was simply a disturbing sociopath who was relentless in his ambition to inflict pain and suffering. The relationship between Jim and Ryder in the first film differs from the new movie. In the first film, Jims a nice kid who thinks hes doing a good deed by picking up the stranded Ryder. The rest of the film shows his descent into darkness as Ryder pushes the innocent youth to violence. Rutger Hauers Ryder seemed to have chosen Jim precisely because he was an innocent and Ryder wanted to corrupt the kid into a reflection of his own perversion. You know, something he could leave behind. As the film progressed, Jims character darkened, much to the delight of Ryder.

In the new film, theres only a hint of that twisted dynamic and it occurs between Ryder and Grace rather than Ryder and Jim. Sean Beans Ryder is just a sicko getting his kicks by killing people. He exhibits a death wish (of sorts) but that just seems to be a remnant from the old film rather than something thats actually worked into his character into the new film. Hauers Ryderas I rememberwanted someone to kill him, to stop him. Yet he also wanted to turn Jim into a killer before he died.

Sean Bean as The Hitcher

Directed by Dave Meyers (yet another music video maker turned filmmaker) The Hitcher builds well for about twenty minutes. The early scenes actually try to generate tension and suspense. And at times Meyers even succeeds. When Ryder enters Jims car, theres a nice sense of unease as he bluntly reveals that hes not trustworthy. Theres that awkward moment as Jim tries to decide if Ryders joking or dead serious. Of course the latter proves true.

But after Jim physically kicks Ryder out of the car, the film careens out of control. Logic flies out the window as the characters behave like idiots. When theyre not being stupid, theyre so whiny you just want to slap them. At one ridiculous point, they manage to escape from Ryder who has just killed a family of four and numerous cops. They stop at a tacky hotel with a door that barely locks, and they decide to shower together for a romantic interlude. Boy thats what I would do if some lunatic was hunting me down. Not! The scene plays so badly that it had the audience nearly doubled over in laughter. And the scene didnt even deliver nudity, just bare shoulders, so it couldnt even be justified as the gratuitous sex scene added to attract 18 to 24 year old males. There are other incredibly stupid things, like the way the couple openly carry big guns as they run around the Southwest. Since Ryder has framed them for the murders and the cops are actively looking to arrest them, openly carrying weapons seems especially stupid.

And finally can I just ask why women have to dress so stupidly? Grace wears practically nothing and then has to suffer for her ridiculous wardrobe. At one point, Ryder surprises her in bed (dont even ask how this dumb situation arises) and she flees to the bathroom where she covers her thong underwear with a micro-mini skirt the size of a bandana. Im sure she felt a lot safer once she got dressed.

Plus the writersa trio that includes Eric Red who wrote the original Hitcher and its direct to video sequelkeep having the characters explain whats going on because the plot is so dumb that it needs to be justified at every turn.

The Hitcher (rated R for horror violence, language and brief nudity) changes but doesn't improve on its source material. The best thing about the film is that there is a preview attached for another Rogue Pictures release Hot Fuzz from the brilliant minds of the people who brought you Shaun of the Dead. I would pay to see The Hitcher again just to see the trailer for Hot Fuzz . That two-minute trailer had more humor, scripting, storytelling and craft than the hundred minutes of The Hitcher.

Companion viewing: The Hitcher (1986), Breakdown, Joy Ride, Shaun of the Dead