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MOVIE REVIEW

Success doesn't hitch along

A remake of `Hitcher' puts pretty people in peril but lacks original's psychological chills.

January 20, 2007|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

Platinum Dunes, a production company overseen by director Michael Bay, has previously been responsible for newfangled takes on "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" and a remake of "The Amityville Horror." The company now bring its just-add-water (and cleavage) philosophy to a new version of "The Hitcher."

Initially released in 1986, "The Hitcher" starred C. Thomas Howell and Rutger Hauer as, respectively, a young man driving alone across the country and the maniacal killer who settles in beside him.

The new version, directed by Dave Meyers from a screenplay credited to Eric Red, Jake Wade Wall and Eric Bernt, bleaches out the existential psychosis that made the original more than just another nasty little cheapie and instead just makes everything bigger and louder. The vehicles are mostly vintage muscle cars and roaring SUVs, the solo driver is now a cute college couple, and the seemingly superhuman bad guy is still, well, a superhuman bad guy.

Following in the footsteps of previous Platinum Dunes heroines Jessica Biel and Jordana Brewster, Sophia Bush -- perhaps they will run out of starlets with B names before they run out of films to rehash -- fills out a tank top nicely and looks good covered in soot and sweat. The filmmakers have gender-switched much of the key action -- including a memorable set piece involving a body coupled to a semi -- but it is to no consequence other than simply keeping Bush in the film longer.

A deeply disturbing article by writer Paul Cullum for LA Weekly regarding the vehicular-related legal woes of original screenwriter Eric Red is far darker and more unsettling than anything that happens on screen here.

The original film now seems less a slasher knock-off of "Duel" than a veritable prototype for "Fight Club" -- a cry for help in which a young man's desire to kill himself is so powerful, and his will to do it so shaky, his anxieties project outward to create another full-bodied being. It is this pained mix of the psychological and metaphysical that lifted the original above its grubby origins and transformed it, however improbably, into art.

Endlessly bouncing this remake off the original is more than slightly unfair, of course, as the filmmakers are by definition (one hopes) trying to do something different with the concept and material. Simply playing it straight is such a blinkered, misguided decision, one can't help but think of the superior predecessor at every turn. That film was intellectually engaging as well as tangibly creepy, while the new remake is just plain bad, and boring to boot.

*

"The Hitcher." MPAA rating: R for strong bloody violence, terror and language. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. In general release.

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