'The Hitcher': All Thumbs

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 20, 2007

If you're driving by a movie theater that's showing "The Hitcher," remember what your mother said about picking up hitchhikers: Don't even think of stopping.

We offer that advice after we stopped to watch this remake of the 1986 action-horror flick. You'd be better off renting the first film -- which starred Rutger Hauer as a marauding roadside thumber and C. Thomas Howell as his victim. The latest version is a dismal, bloody effort that can't even honor the cliches of horror-flickdom.

Aficionados know that a scare flick -- from the "Saw" movies to all of those "I-Know-What-You-Did-Last-Summer" films -- gives audiences an early taste of the grisly stuff to come. But "Hitcher" flubs right at the starting gate, when a jack rabbit -- clearly computer-generated -- hops in front of a speeding truck. This mammal, which seems to hover rather than hop convincingly, will cause audiences to guffaw at the technical hokiness rather than sense any growing dread. And that's your harbinger of horror -- ineptitude.

From this point, the movie sticks resolutely to the task of failing the tropes of the genre. Horror movies, for instance, create casts that appeal to savvy, youthful audiences. But the collegiate couple pursued by a murderous hitchhiker -- Sophia Bush (Brooke in TV's "One Tree Hill") and newcomer Zachary Knighton -- seem terminally enervated. Knighton, who resembles the goateed Shaggy in "Scooby-Doo," has one acting mode: dude-in-the-headlights bewilderment. And Bush stays perpetually terrified as she undresses here, there and everywhere. They're neither interesting enough for us to root for nor annoying enough for us to enjoy seeing slaughtered.

"Hitcher" tries to make its bad guy -- played by English actor Sean Bean -- allegorical, in the grand tradition of films such as the "Elm Street" series. These evil beings are supposed to represent our darker side, or the boogeyman our fears invent. But Bean's John Ryder, after hinting that he can see something evil inside Knighton's Jim Halsey, seems to give up on this idea.

So we're left with a killer who has no reason for chasing this couple or shooting carloads of cops. He just does it for a livin', apparently. At least in the 1986 version -- which also offered no motive for Ryder -- we had the edgy presence of Hauer, the scary, blue-eyed Dutchman who has, so often, made B-movie villains classy. But in the new film, Bean, best known as Boromir from the "Lord of the Rings" franchise, brings nothing more to the role than facial angularity.

So what was the reason for remaking "The Hitcher" -- apart from showing, once again, what happens to the human body when you chain it between two stationary trucks and drive one of them away? (Hint: The truck wins.) The answer -- if it's anything deeper than exploiting thrill-seeking moviegoers for a quick buck -- can be found only in the heads of music-videomeister-turned-director Dave Meyers and screenwriters Jake Wade Wall and Eric Bernt who, between them, have made an industry of retreading movies such as "When a Stranger Calls," "Bachelor Party" and "Highlander." So to those artistes, we'd like to offer our own kind of thumbing gesture -- the kind where both opposable digits are pointed directly downward.

The Hitcher (83 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for excessive violence, profanity and sexual situations.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company