Recent remakes have come under fire for making so many changes to the original (Dawn of the Dead, Black Christmas). Well, the detractors of those films should be happy to learn that the remake of The Hitcher was so similar, original writer Eric Red is given partial screenplay credit (along with the obvious “Based on” credit), despite having no involvement with the project, a Writer’s Guild decision that surprised even the remake’s producers.
However it’s not a carbon copy the way Van Sant’s Psycho was. Beat for beat, it’s the same, but this time, Jim (Zachary Knighton) has a love interest right from the start. Grace, played by Sophia Bush (best known for her TV show One Tree Hill, also featured in the dismal Stay Alive), is upgraded to full blown lead this time around. They are en route from Texas to California for spring break. Passing through New Mexico, they encounter a hitcher (Sean Bean). At first driving past him in the rain, they run into him again at a convenience store. Feeling guilty, Jim agrees to give him a ride to the nearest motel. As with the original, no time is wasted revealing that the hitcher, again named John Ryder, is a psychopath, and thus the cat and mouse game begins. Rider eventually kills another family, and the police arrest Jim and Grace for the murders. He kills the cops, they escape, etc.
The biggest change, other than introducing the female character earlier, is the shift in focus. While the original was a Rutger Hauer movie, this is a Sophia Bush movie. We get precious little of Sean Bean, and even less dialogue (the diner scene, one of the creepiest/best parts in the original, is completely Hitcher-free here). Instead, the focus is almost entirely on our heroes, with the Hitcher kept to the background other than two or three scenes (the film’s most suspenseful moment is when Ryder struggles to free himself from handcuffs). Luckily, the two leads are good in their roles, and a film can certainly do worse things than showcasing Sophia Bush. But it’s sad to see Sean Bean, one of today’s most interesting character actors, get so few chances to chew the scenery. Not to mention Neal McDonough, another great character actor, who is almost completely wasted as the Sheriff.
Director Dave Meyers comes from a music video background, and luckily, it doesn’t really show. The film is directed well, with none of the strobe flashing and jump cutting you get from a lot of his immediate peers. Other than a somewhat laughable soundtrack choice for a car chase about halfway through the film, his music video past is seemingly just that, his past. Hopefully his next effort will be a full blown original. The changes from Red’s original script are courtesy of Jake Wade Wall, writer of the When A Stranger Calls remake (hey, at least he didn’t turn the Hitcher into the ice machine) and Eric Bernt, who has written a few other guilty pleasures like Virtuosity and Surviving the Game.
After getting off to a good start with 2003’s Texas Chainsaw redux, it seems Platinum Dunes are becoming less and less interested in “re-imagining” the classics and just plain ol’ “remaking” them. However, the universal familiarity with both taking long drives and deciding whether or not to pick up hitchhikers makes the film hard to dislike. Any horror/thriller is automatically more effective when you can easily identify with the story. But since, at least in general (and some specific) terms, nothing is different, one cannot ignore the fact that the film is never suspenseful or scary if you have seen the original. Swapping the sexes isn’t enough to change that, though at least they were smart enough to cast someone as inherently watchable as Bush to keep you entertained anyway. Those who haven’t seen the original should love it, but hopefully they will go home and check out the original and see just how creepy a Hitchhiker can be.