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Movie Review: The Hitcher – Do We Need the Same Ride Twice?

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Remakes. What a weird notion. I mean, seriously… how often do you hear anyone who has seen the original concede that the remake is better? Has it ever happened? At all?

The Hitcher (1986) was written by Eric Red, directed by Robert Harmon, and stars Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. I remember getting into what can best be described as an epic argument about this movie with another viewer. It was mainly about the fact that there was never a reason given for why the Hitcher did the things he did. I was fine with that. The other viewer was not.

So, here we are again, 20 years later. Eric Red is involved in the screenplay again, along with Jake Jade Wall. The director is Dave Meyers and the leads are played by Sean Bean (John Ryder), Sophia Bush (Grace Andrews), Zachary Knighton (Jim Halsey), and Neal McDonough (Lt. Estridge).

Jim and Grace are on spring break and they decide to drive Jim's Oldsmobile 442 to Lake Havasu. On a rainy highway somewhere in New Mexico they pass a stranger whose car has broken down. Jim wants to stop and help him, Grace does not. Things spin quickly out of control from there on out.

John Ryder focuses on the couple with increasing vehemence, just like in the first movie. And that's kind of the problem. If you have seen the first one you recognize some of the situations right down to the specifics and it makes me tilt my head and scrunch up my face. I don't know who the target audience is for this. People who haven't seen the first one will definitely have a different experience. For those of us who remember Rutger Hauer's performance there's the inevitable comparison between his brand of creepy and Sean Bean's. But you can't really call the repetition homage, it's not done with that kind of sensibility. There's no earthly reason for both Sean Bean's and Zachary Knighton's characters to have the same names as the original characters while Sophia Bush gets a brand new name.

This is one of those movies where the killer just keeps on coming. He can't be put down other than by a double barrel to the head. In that respect he is like a Terminator. It creates suspense through sheer momentum. You keep expecting him to pop up everywhere and he does, but not the way you think, or in exactly the way you think, but with more carnage. Either way, it's effective.

Visually, this movie is appealing. The heavy rains and the blasted landscape of the desert both create the kind of isolation that enhances the protagonists' vulnerability. The couple are surprisingly endearing and Grace gets to toughen up in some vaguely Thelma-and-Louise way. It feels kind of redundant to go into the whole female in possession of kick-ass boots and big guns here, because it's just another take on the original story that's engineered that way to create a twist. So, Jim winds up being the damsel in distress. Maybe it's just me being jaded, but I don't really think it makes much of a difference.

This remake is not enough of an original to really merit any other thought than it being a case of cashing in on an audience that hasn't seen the first movie, unfortunately. It's not bad, but it seems to suffer from the kind of amnesia that a smart filmmaker can't really afford to indulge in. I keep thinking "this should be better", but despite that I don't feel the need to throw popcorn at my screen.

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