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Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Hitcher

I’m officially ancient. I hate that studios are now remaking movies for a new generation that I recall seeing as an adult when the original first came out. That just ticks me off big time. I mean, really. I still get the willies from the first version of The Hitcher, made in 1986, so I’m not sure that my 21-years-older heart can stand a ‘new and improved’ version if that means scarier.

I’ve never picked up a hitchhiker in my life. I’ve heard enough stories about lovers chopped to death or hitchers with hooks hanging onto the driver’s door handle even as the innocent young women who think they have beaten him at his own game start to motor away to their escape, unaware they are dragging him along… or at least his severed arm with the hook attached. And then there is The Hitcher of the 1986 movie himself, played by Rutger Hauer. I am convinced his John Ryder is completely responsible for raising an entire twenty years span of adults who will never stop for a stranger on the side of a road no matter what the circumstances are. I know from personal experience that he has also had another profound effect on me. I mean, I expect to occasionally see a hitchhiker give me the finger in my rear
view mirror if I don’t stop, but in Hauer’s The Hitcher he gave C. Thomas Howell, as Jim Halsey, the finger in a completely gut-wrenching way that has put me off deep-fried everything ever since. In some ways then, you could consider The Hitcher a diet aid. I wondered if this new version could possibly measure up.

I was determined to be first in line at the
Essex Cinemas to find out. While I was waiting to go in to see the movie I was talking with the always delightful Nancy and Lan, my Friday afternoon Concession Queens, about the woes of my life, having been unceremoniously dumped from the pages of The Essex Reporter and The Colchester Sun upon the arrival of a new editor this past week. If you usually look for my writing there I’m afraid you’ll longer find it. Apparently the new management found me “expendable,” a nice euphemism for “crappy.” So please tell your friends that if they want to read my ramblings they are either going to have to look here or drop a line to editor Susan Reid at
reid@essexreporter.com and ask her to put Grace Noble back where she belongs. But I digress.

As I was saying, while chatting with Nancy and Lan, a couple of 17 year-olds came in to see
The Hitcher and Nancy asked to see their identification since The Hitcher is rated ‘R’ and they do take these things seriously at the Essex Cinemas. The young people checked out and came on in where we ended up talking before the movie about the fact that this was a remake, which they didn’t realize. I told them how the original had practically (how do I put this?) scared me to a point of cleansing my colon completely. They could hardly wait.

When the movie finally began I was surprised and pleased to see that the characters bore the same names as those in the original. That alone held promise that this version was going to show some faithfulness to the Hauer nightmare I loved. Things changed rapidly, however, as in
The Hitcher (2007), this was not going to be a creepy encounter on lonely New Mexico highway between one man and a psychotic mass murderer, it was going to be a about a couple and the slicing psycho. Yep, in this version, Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton; The Prince & Me) is the boyfriend of Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush; tv’s “One Tree Hill”), and rather than him meeting up with her character much later on, the two are college students from the start, on spring break and headed to Lake Havasu, when they have the bad fortune to pick up hitchhiker, John Ryder (Sean Bean; Silent Hill).

Grace and Jim quickly learn that this was a bad mistake and they should have listened to their mothers’ advice to never give a hitchhiker a ride and
always wear clean underwear. Fortunately, as Grace/Sophia has already shown in her first appearance, where she changes out of her nightgown into her just-as-skimpy street clothes in the car, she is definitely wearing lovely Victoria’s Secret undies and bra (aquamarine, no less), in a scene obviously included for the target audience of post-pubescent boys who will see the movie and then when they wake up at 3:00 a.m. looking for something else to twiddle besides their thumbs will have this memory to conjure up. Anyway, Ryder turns out to be anything but a Keebler elf bringing cookies and milk along in payment for his ride. It turns out he prefers pulling knives on his hosts and threatening to carve out eyeballs and that sort of thing. Needless to say, he has obviously never read Miss Manners or Emily Post.

So begins
The Hitcher, and from here on in the nightmare spirals out of control. Grace and Jim manage to escape from Ryder’s grasp more often than Lindsay Lohan has been hospitalized for (wink, wink) “exhaustion” but like they are the mice and Ryder the cat, no matter how quick and clever they are, he always finds them again. This cat, however, is in no hurry to finish them off. He is having fun playing with his “food”, and so he uses them in a series of set-ups that leave them holding the bag for a series of gory slayings he is responsible for, so they are now being pursued by both the police and Ryder. The game is on.

As in the first version, there is one police officer amongst the battalion of troops on the trail of the young “murderers” who believes they are innocent. In this case, that policeman is Lieutenant Esteridge, played by Neal McDonough (Flags of Our Fathers). Perhaps the filmmakers think audiences are dimmer than they were two decades ago because they make his figuring out the kids are not guilty a whole lot easier and quicker than they did back when. It is almost laughable, too, that when Esteridge points out the obvious clue, he is the only one to have seen it even though it’s like a billboard in blood right in front of everyone’s eyes. Duh. Maybe killing off this crew would be considered “thinning the herd” and they could get a smarter team in next time, some cops with at least the brain power of the Reno 911 gang.

By the short film’s end (only 85 minutes), there’s been carnage galore, a modicum of brutality, but not gallons of blood and guts, so that may be a disappointment to those who have grown up in the world of Jason Voorhees and expect that more is always better; there is, however, unrelenting action and the tension levels run on high throughout. Sophia Bush does an admirable job as Grace, proving that
she can do more than pose in her underpants and scream. Knighton is okay, but, to be honest, I found myself wondering why a girl like Grace would be going with a guy like Jim. No offense to Knighton, but he is not in her league, and in this role he has little to do that proves him heroic or swoonable. If anything, Grace seems more like Aliens’ Ellen Ripley out to save his sorry butt than the other way around. As for the big, bad man himself? Sean Bean does a bang-up job as the man of little words but with a carving fetish. His Ryder is reminiscent of Rutger Hauer’s, for sure, but Hauer had a string of bad guy roles as his lead in, so people thought of him as a “bad boy” coming in. Bean is best known as the benevolent Boromir from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so he has had to overcome a ‘nice guy’ image to instill fear in the audience’s hearts. He does a fine job of it, I must say. Let’s just hope Mr. Bean’s car never breaks down and he needs a ride because I’d leave the sucker standing in a hurricane now.

I wasn’t sure I’d care for updating The Hitcher. I was disappointed that my favorite scene involving the French Fryer was gone, but it’s a small price to pay otherwise. While the 1986 version was fine enough, this was like getting a spiffy new car. It even smelled brand new. Well, okay, that may have been the fresh popcorn Nancy had just popped out in the lobby combined with the sugary scent from my bag of Skittles, but I was overjoyed to find that the young couple I met before the movie thought this was “absolutely great” (his comment) and “really scary; it made me jump like three or four times” (her comment). What more could you ask for than that? Well, maybe a couple of gi-normous explosions, a dozen car crashes, a helicopter explosion, and more shootings than you’d ever see in a week in Iraq? They’re all there too, so hitch a ride on down to the Essex Cinemas and enjoy.

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