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The Hitcher

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

When word leaks out that a horror film some fans consider a cult classic is about to be remade by a movie studio, itís pretty obvious that artistic pretensions have nothing to do with it. Releasing the original doesnít work either. Moviegoers wonít pay to see a film theatrically when they can rent it for a fraction the price on DVD. The only alternative for cashing in on a cult classic is simple: switch out the actors for younger models from television, bring in an inexpensive music video director to helm his first film, superficially modernize the setting, and cynically increase the violence and gore, all of which leads us to the remake of a cult horror classic, The Hitcher.

Driving across New Mexico on their way to meet some friends for spring break, Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush) and Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton) almost hit a stranded motorist. They run across the stranded motorist, John Ryder (Sean Bean), at a gas station. Grace resists giving Ryder a ride but, when asked, Jim decides to give Ryder a ride to the next town. In the car, Ryderís easygoing demeanor disappears quickly, revealing a vicious, knife-wielding sociopath. They narrowly escape. Ryder, though, isnít done with Jim and Grace, shadowing them at every turn, and implicating Jim and Grace in a series of brutal murders that, in turn, brings the New Mexico State Police into Ryderís increasingly deadly game of cat-and-mouse.

The remake substitutes a young, college age couple for the originalís lone, isolated protagonist, an idea that suggests that the lesser-known 2003 straight-to-video sequel, The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting, was also used by the screenwriters in developing the remake. The original followed a single character as he repeatedly encountered and confronted the mysterious hitcher (a romantic interest isn't introduced until the midway point). Like the 1986 original, though, the remake borrowed the premise (making the hitcher a sociopathic killer) from a first season episode of Rod Serling's anthology series "The Twilight Zone" called ďThe Hitch-Hiker".

On the minus side, the remake excises the psychological complexity and the narrative ambiguity that suggested the hitcher either had supernatural powers or was an extension of the protagonistís fractured psyche. In the remake, Ryder is as ďrealĒ as Jim or Grace. Although the remake preserves Ryderís enigmatic background, the remake does away with the killerís warped desire to die at the protagonistís hands (some of the killerís dialogue is lifted from the original, but with a different meaning). Also missing in action is backstory for the lead characters, the expected, extended confrontation between the last character standing and the hitcher and common sense/logical behavior.

Does the remake of The Hitcher have anything going for it? Sure, the early buildup works effectively, as do the second and third encounters with Ryder and the New Mexico Police, the occasional splatter of gratuitous, realistic gore (a sucking chest wound here, a geyser of crimson blood there, a severed body here), and a grisly death scene lifted beat for beat from the 1986 film, but The Hitcher soon loses all sense of internal logic and momentum, with characters acting dumbly not because itís in their nature but because their nonsensical decisions (e.g., running when they shouldnít, stopping for a shower and a nap with the killer still on the loose) are necessary to advance The Hitcher to the next implausible plot turn.

Last, Sophia Bush ("One Tree Hill") and Zachary Knighton turn in serviceable, bland performances as the generic couple-in-danger (the spare, underwritten script doesnít help). Sean Bean is disappointing as the hitcher not because he lacks talent (he has it) or phones in a one-note performance (well ok, he does), but because itís hard to imagine what made him accept a role that Rutger Hauer elevated to iconic status twenty years ago with his off-kilter line readings and creepy mannerisms. Less like this, please.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars