Friday, October 19, 2012

Cinema 2007: Remake of 1980s thriller needs shlock absorbers

Perhaps no actor can be expected to equal the idiosyncratic intensity of Rutger Hauer in the 1986 road thriller cult classic "The Hitcher.” After all, by the mid-1980s Hauer's performances had already made him a favorite feared bad guy and pop culture icon.

Certainly Sean Bean’s work in the 2007 remake, directed by Dave Meyers, falls short of that benchmark. Bean’s hitcher remains an unshaven, boring blank of a sociopath.

This remake’s lack of horror is the direct result of its failure to capture our imagination. John Ryder may be a twisted killer with a death wish, but he rarely reveals any personality – the key to instilling fear and panic in the ticket-buying public.

Actor Neal McDonough’s Lt. Esteridge may be more memorable here, if only for his incongruous baby face,

Instead of horror, Meyers delivers shlock. O moviegoer, how to shlock thee? Let me count the ways in this remake: dream scene shlock, slowly turning doorknob shlock, spurting blood shlock, incompetent cops shlock, car ramming shlock, seedy motel room shlock, incredible marksmanship by amateurs with handguns in speeding cars shlock and, of course, inbred locals shlock.

The movie begins innocently enough on campus. But when young Jim (Zachary Knighton) and Grace (Sophia Bush) leave the civilized confines of academe in order to partake of Spring Break, they run the murderous gauntlet of “the real world” in the form of an interstate through New Mexico.

Jim and Grace quickly meet up with the eponymous vagabond and a series of clashes and showdowns ensues. This hitchhiker sure gets around, but it is when he finds himself in police handcuffs that his talented thumb really comes in handy – he dislocates it in order to escape.

The film’s early pacing does manage to keep you off balance, although those scenes where the kids are framed for murders committed by the hitcher are so weak as to be nonsensical.

The best part of this “Hitcher" remake is the growth of Grace, from one stereotype to another. She starts out as a tardy traveler with an overactive bladder, the antithesis of boyfriend Jim, whose muscle car marks him as road ready. But as Grace’s arc ascends toward shotgun-blasting super sister, Jim’s arc descends until he is but half the man he was before meeting the hitcher. For all his scruffy sensitivity, Jim’s best move is using bottled water to clean his windshield at 70 mph.

When Grace, in mini skirt and boots, leaps from burning wreckage to save what’s left of the day, the mean spirit guiding the movie recasts our leggy heroine as a cold-blooded executioner. Grace might be the baddest babe this side of Albuquerque, but the final scenes diminish her humanity.

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