‘The Hitcher’ picks up on violence but isn’t as scary as original


Way back in ’86, a violent little movie called “The Hitcher” came along and pretty much ended hitchhiking as we know it. The almost-scene-for-scene remake won’t give those who travel by thumb any peace, either. Who would pick up a hitchhiker after seeing what Sean Bean can do?

Bean has the Rutger Hauer role in this “Hitcher,” a stylish, jolting remake that has some of the virtues, but also the dramatically unsatisfying amoral plot points, of the original.

Jim (TV actor Zachary Knighton) is 21, with a 1970 Olds 442 muscle car and an absurdly hot girlfriend, Grace (Sophia Bush of “One Tree Hill”). They set off from somewhere to Lake Havasu, Ariz., for spring break.

Then, on a rainy night in Nowhere, N.M., they almost hit this dude standing in the middle of the road. Jim wants to go back and check on him. Grace isn’t having it.

That makes for an awkward moment when they meet him at a convenience store down the road.

“Don’t worry about it,” the man in the dark trench coat grins and growls. “I wouldn’t pick me up either.”

But they do. A few miles down the road, he flashes a knife, and we’re off. The young couple ditch him, spy him in a car full of a family and kids, wreck as they try to warn that family, and spend the rest of the movie traveling on foot, stalked by “The Hitcher.” They try to convince assorted cops that these murders that pile up around them are his doing, not theirs. And he just cleans his knife and utters his catch phrase.

“Four words. Say them. “I want to die.”‘

Bean, as Hauer did 20 years ago, makes this stock villain more interesting than he deserves to be. Music video director Dave Meyer, working from a rewritten version of that 1986 script (by Eric Red), repeats the original film’s infamous tractor-trailer stunt, but adds a few shocks, and makes the violence as graphic as can be. Blood flows and flesh is torn. The editing is snappy, even if the dialogue isn’t.

But the payoff doesn’t work. Bean, for all his menace, for that wonderful iconic-evil introduction (in silhouette, in the rain) isn’t as scary as Hauer once was.

The kids are bland, and whatever moral there was to the tale, about trust and emasculation, is twisted in the film’s amoral endorsement of violence (and punishing those who don’t take it as a first step) or is tossed aside in a quest for simple “gotcha” moments.

Still, it works as a horror piece, and a simple lesson from the grownups to that young horror-film-fan generation:

Don’t stop for hitchhikers.