Saturday, July 07, 2007

Future Unrentables: The Hitcher

As if to allay any concerns that there might be something worthwhile about it, The Hitcher remake opens with an animated rabbit being crushed into roadkill by a passing car. The effects on the rabbit are so hideous, so plainly fake, that it destroys any possible surprise the splatter moment may have had. We know something horrible will happen to this computer-generated rabbit because otherwise they would have used a real rabbit.

Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton (I don't remember either character's name, nor could I provide even a sketch of their background or personality) are starting off on one of those wild n' crazy young person road trips. You know, the kind of debauched coming-of-age journey, typically accompanied by screechy pop-punk, that always seem to lead nubile 20-somethings into these desert-encircled pits of hell in these movies.

It takes director Dave Meyers approximately 2.5 minutes of road trip to get Sophia Bush into her underwear. (Naturally, she has to change in the car.) Under normal circumstances, would be a good sign. But this is a remake of The Hitcher we're talking about here...It would take the entire female population of Van Nuys undressing simultaneously to save this shitkicker.

Sophia and Zach have a not-hilarious run-in with a gas station redneck who relates to them the charming story behind his lazy eye. (He was attempting to milk a donkey. Ba-zing!)

Then the titular Hitcher, played by Sean Bean as part of his ongoing World Tour of Shitty Genre Films, shows up needing a ride to a motel. There's absolutely no attempt to play said Hitcher as anything but a maniacal villain. He's creepy from Minute #1 and within four minutes of his introduction in the film, he's taunting the heroes with a switchblade. It's all handled in an extremely perfunctory manner. Zach and Sophia don't really even seem that surprised when Bean goes all mad-dog on them. "What? You're a serial killer! Oh, man, and I thought we were just giving a ride to some guy! Geez, leave it to me, you know?"

There's no thrill or intensity to this "reveal." Finding out that Bean's a total psycho is a revelation on roughly the same level as finding out Indiana Jones is handy with a whip.

Once Bean has threatened the lives of both heroes and they have managed to successfully kick him out of a moving car, Zach realizes they should "probably call the cops." Too bad the Hitcher has come away with his cell phone.

After a couple fake-out is-it-a-dream-or-isn't-it sequences, our heroes spot The Hitcher enjoying a ride in a family station wagon, causing them to freak out and crash their own car! In the middle of the desert! With a Hitcher around! Not to mention those Hills Have Eyes mutants and Sig Haig in clown make-up! So, in a delicious irony, the Hitchees have become the Hitchers! See how they did that?

That's interesting writing!

Zach and Sophia run into a hyper-religious family that The Hitcher has taken the liberty of butchering. They make a vain but valiant attempt to get the dying brood some medical attention, and of course get implicated themselves in the killings.

What's weird is, Zach and Sophia seem really upset to see the police, even before they know they're being set up to take the fall. They've just had their lives threatened by a maniac who proceeded to brutalize an entire family on an open stretch of road. I'd think, after this kind of experience, seeing the police arrive would be a welcome relief, even if it occurred to you (unlikely) that they might suspect you for the crime. Besides, other people have seen Sean Bean. He's not Keyser Soze or anything. They have every reason to believe the cops will listen to their story.

Instead, their initial suspicions turn out to be correct, and our heroes get railroaded by the cruel American justice system (which as we all know, is unfairly prejudiced against attractive, economically-secure white kids).

"It wasn't me, it was The Hitcher! Or possibly the One-Armed Man!," they plead, but to no avail. I'm starting to realize that this film has an extremely short attention span. No sequences or events really last beyond three to five minutes. A new obstacle presents itself, then The Hitcher kills everyone except the heroes, off-screen, then Zach and Sophia run away to be moderately creeped out another day. It's like the entire first season of a Chris Carter TV series compressed into 80 minutes.

So before long, these two are implicated in the murders of a nice Christian family and an entire police station worth of cops, which has got to be some kind of felony. The Hitcher was apparently able to slay a dozen or so officers in a matter of minutes. In a John Carpenter movie, that kind of mass slaying's gonna run you at least a couple hours, so you know this guy's good.

The guy from that "Boomtown" show no one watched shows up as a sheriff who's hot on the heels of Sophia and Zach, though he's skeptical that they were acting alone. Neal McDonough...he's old skool...he's a cop...He says things like "You've gotta be five-finger fucking me!" Full respek.

At this point, it's totally ridiculous that Zach and Sophie wouldn't turn themselves over to the cops and try to explain everything. Obviously, running away makes you look guilty, dumbasses! Instead, they wait to get caught and then try to explain. Oh, and then, in a carefully plotted masterstroke, they pull a gun on the cops. You know what? These two deserve to get taken down. The Hitcher's doing a public service, stopping two idiots before they can mate.

There's a big car chase between Zach and Sophia, The Hitcher and some police cars set to Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" that's, to my surprise, not entirely reprehensible. It's easily the best scene in the movie, though I have to say it looks exceptionally fake. If Michael Bay had shot it, I'm sure it would have cost $80 million more and included a lot of shrapnel bits flying directly at the screen, but you's not bad...

The big action-y chase stuff also kind of moves the film out of the realm of horror and into the realm of camp andexploitation. If they had gone more whole-heartedly in this direction from the beginning, The Hitcher would have been far more watchable.

Instead, it's a cop-out. Meyers sets up lurid exploitation scenes only to cop out immediately. We move in on Sophia Bush in the shower, but quickly cut away to a TV showing Hitchcock's The Birds. (What's with that reference? I don't get it...) Bean climbs atop Bush like he's going to rape her, but then passes on the idea for no apparent reason. I guess he felt it might make him too unlikable to the females, 18-25...

So rather than wanting her sex, Bean decides he wants Sophia to kill him, preferably in front of a bunch of police, so she will be implicated even further, which at this point doesn't even seem possible. Things go from bad to worse, and both The Hitcher and Sophia end up in the custody of Sheriff Buford T. Justice Neal McDonough. I won't reveal Zach's fate...but he won't be taking any more zany-young-person road trips any time soon.

The focus then switches to figuring out who this Hitcher guy is. We get an intense "interrogation" scene where Bean gets pumped for information. "I bet you liked killing those sick fuck..." That sort of thing. I mean, does it matter who he is or why he did it? He's a crazy hitchhiking killer guy. Stop studying his psychology and lock him up! This ain't Criminal Intent, and Neal McDonough, ain't no Vinnie D'Onofrio.

Following his sixth or seventh improbable escape attempt, I lost count, The Hitcher locks Sophia in a van and then blows it up, hoping to kill her in the process. He seems otherwise so willing to murder people face-to-face, real up close and personal like, it's odd that he would leave his main surviving nemesis alone in a locked van and simply assume the whole dying thing goes to plan. He's kind of asking for his last-minute comeuppance with that classic movie villain blunder...

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