Directed by: Dave Meyers
Written by: Jake Wade Wall and Eric Bernt
Starring: Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton, Neal McDonough
At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs
Running time: 83 minutes
Rated: R (strong bloody violence, terror, language)
By Ty Burr
No one's going to argue that the 1986 psycho-thriller "The Hitcher" was a pillar of world cinema, but it had a scuzzy originality. The remake, by default, lacks even that. I don't think I've seen a movie with less reason to exist.
The plot's just a campfire story, really: Guy picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be a serial killer and maybe something more ghostly. Straight-up boogeyman stuff. Eric Red's teeth-clenched script for the 1986 film pitted C. Thomas Howell against a genuinely creepy Rutger Hauer as the villain, John Ryder, with Jennifer Jason Leigh as a friendly diner waitress/lunchmeat. The movie was crude but it worked, and you could believe Red was inspired by the old Doors song "Riders on the Storm" and the current of dread that runs through it.
Here we get a young couple as generic as the cookie-cutter rock on the soundtrack: Jim (Zachary Knighton) and Grace (Sophia Bush, from the CW's "One Tree Hill" and the movie's real star as far as the target audience is concerned). They're cute, they bicker, they're boring as hell, and then they pick up Ryder in a storm, this time played by Sean Bean, Boromir from "The Lord of the Rings."
It's as though director Dave Meyers (a music-video veteran) and writers Jake Wade Wall and Eric Bernt were trying an experiment: If you boil off dialogue, performance, narrative logic and grind a movie down to the nub of genre, will there be any suspense left? The answer is yes, but only in a Pavlovian sense. You react to this dull shockathon like a wired lab rat who's seen it all before. And guess what? You have.
Bean (does he pronounce his name "shawn bonn" or "seen been"? I've often wondered) glowers implacably, while Knighton makes you pine for the thespic nuances of C. Thomas Howell. Bush gives good, shallow pluck and that's about it; when Grace and Jim stop at a Qwik-Mart and he asks "Ding Dong or Twinkie?," you think he's talking about her.
The best performances in the film are given by Neal McDonough as a state cop in the requisite cowboy hat and Jim's 1970 Oldsmobile 442. Neither stick around nearly long enough. Horror movie purists will miss the french-fry-finger sight gag (and I do mean gag) while nodding at the pro forma twist on the original's infamous Mack truck gross-out scene.
The most depressing part about all this is that "The Hitcher" has been made completely without style. Hasn't a career of Britney Spears and Creed videos taught the director anything?
About Movie Nation
ContributorsTy Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.
Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.
Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.
Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.
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Look for new reviews by Ty Burr and Wesley Morris at the end of each week in multiple formats.