Retro Review: THE HITCHER (2007){0}

It’s not just that mounting a remake of Robert Harmon’s cult classic “The Hitcher” is a bad idea; it’s that this slapped-together afterthought of a remake doesn’t even come close to capturing what made the original such a ferociously refreshing piece of genre filmmaking in the first place. Basically it’s just another example of a producer getting hold of a popular “title,” and then doing all he can to churn out a new version for the youth of today, without ever really having a clue as to why the older folks love the flick so damn much. It’s a shallow and masturbatory exercise, basically, and the fact that the new “Hitcher” made less than $19 million in worldwide box office should be a welcome indication that this endless “remake parade” has finally run its course. We hope.

Despite what you just read, I definitely did walk into “The Hitcher” hoping it was a little more like “Dawn of the Dead ’04” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre ’03” than “The Fog ’05” or “House of Wax ’05” — but the straight truth is that this is one of the flimsiest remakes to hit the pike in quite some time. The plot is pretty much the same — a pair of young adults are harassed and then pursued all over the desert by a vicious (yet clever) psychopath — but when you’re dealing with a simplistic story, you better have a few slick surprises up your sleeve. Original “Hitcher” director Robert Harman (and screenwriter Eric Red) sure did. Remake director Dave Meyers, despite some obvious talent, does not.

All the best moments in the remake have been lifted from the original film, and the deviations made on the new version (such as the gender role-reversal on the “main” character) exist only to confuse and irritate the old-school fan. But even if you’ve never even heard of the original “Hitcher,” there’s just not much to get excited about regarding the re-do. Where the original film throttled forward at a grimly exciting pace, Meyer’s film just sort of delivers the basic plot points and then rambles around aimlessly until the next batch of carnage hits the screen — very little of which is particularly unique or exciting.

The original “Hitcher” had Dutch actor Rutger Hauer as the villain, and the remake producers are to be commended for hiring another fine actor to play the role this time around. The problem is this: We’ve seen Sean Bean play raving psychotics before, which certainly lessens the impact of what’s offered here. Lead shriekers Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton don’t leave much of an impression, whereas the generally colorful character actor Neal McDonough is left to pick up whatever small scraps are tossed his way.

Points to Meyers and his production team for trying to keep “The Hitcher” a hardcore and aggressively mean-spirited affair, but without just a few new ideas of their own, the remake turns out to be a pretty pointless project. If you can’t improve upon your original in some small but interesting way, then you’re simply churning out assembly-line product for a gradually more disinterested fan-base. If you’ve never seen the original, this lame-yet-semi-watchable remake may pique your interest to do so. If, however, the original flick holds a special place in your gorehound heart, you’re probably better off ignoring this retread completely.

Universal brings the movie home in an anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) transfer, with audio delivered in Dolby Digital 5.1. Extras include about 24 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, including a gorier finale that might be worth checking out. You’ll also find four featurettes that vary in length from 5 to 14 minutes: “Fuel Your Fear” is a typical piece of on-set fluff, “Road Kill” takes a look at some of the flick’s car crashes, “Dead End” is a piece on one of the movie’s biggest kill scenes, and “Chronicles of a Killer” is a bunch of fake news reports regarding The Hitcher’s horrible activities.