Is this film a parody? God, I hope so. Because if it is, well then, maybe it was actually pretty good.
At the very least, The Hitcher deserves props for bucking the recent horror movie trend of fetishizing torture, pioneered by the likes of Saw, Hostel, et al. Ironically, it also illustrates the reason why those Saw-esque snuff films are so plentiful today: horror filmmakers are completely out of ideas.
If The Hitcher's plot sounds familiar -- a vapid college couple en route to spring break in Lake Havasu falls prey to a sadistic hitchhiker -- it's because we've seen it before. The Hitcher is actually a remake of the eponymous 1986 film -- considered a minor classic by horror enthusiasts -- featuring '80s luminaries C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The movie wasn't exactly crying out to be remade, but that didn't stop the folks at Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes, the boutique production company responsible for recent remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror, from giving it a shot anyway.
Sean Bean plays the sadistic hitchhiker John Ryder, and he has big, creepy shoes to fill inhabiting the role made famous by Rutger Hauer. "One Tree Hill" star Sophia Bush and newcomer Zachary Knighton round out the cast as the unfortunate couple targeted for torment by Ryder.
The plot stays essentially true to the original. Jim (Knighton) and Grace (Bush) are happily en route to Lake Havasu when they make the unwise decision to pick up Ryder, who happens to be stranded at the side of the road with car trouble. Ryder isn't one for polite conversation; he quickly dispenses with the pleasantries and opts for attempted murder. But Jim and Grace, in a rare display of quick thinking, successfully fight him off.
Ryder isn't finished with them, however. He proceeds to frame the couple for a few grisly murders he commits, and Jim and Grace suddenly find themselves pursued by the dual menace of shoot-first cops (led by Band of Brothers alum Neal McDonough) and a murderous psychopath.
One notable difference in this version is that the gender of the protagonist has been switched, with Sophia Bush filling the C. Thomas Howell role. It makes perfect sense: audiences today much prefer watching a scantily clad hottie like Bush mete out revenge with a pump-action shotgun, as opposed to some grubby jackass like Zachary Knighton.
Poor Knighton. In the screening I attended, the audience cheered wildly when he was finally dispatched in a gory homage to the original film's trademark death scene. (I'm not giving anything away here -- it's been featured in every Hitcher television ad.)
Though he strives valiantly to rival Rutger Hauer's performance in the original film, Sean Bean ultimately comes up short in the role of John Ryder. It's not a fair contest, really. Hauer is an icon of creepiness; his glance alone is enough to arouse discomfort. Though he does his best with the approximately six lines of dialogue he's given, Bean is essentially the Brosnan (or Lazenby, depending on one's opinion) to Hauer's Connery.
The Hitcher is not without its moments. The best sequence of the film is a highway shootout set to the Nine Inch Nails song "Closer," in which the music and the visuals blend perfectly to create the perfect vibe for Ryder's methodical rampage. Watching the scene, it doesn't come as a surprise to learn that Hitcher director Dave Meyers hails from the world of music videos.
The rest of the film, however, is a cavalcade of mediocrity. Its greatest asset, ultimately, is its length -- a blissfully short 83 minutes.