Rob’s Car Movie Review: The Hitcher (2007)

There are a number of axioms I learned to stick to in my time on this mortal coil. There’s probably only one I’ve never deviated from: I don’t like remakes. Not in music, not in fashion, and most assuredly not in movies. Remakes are a shortcut to true creativity. Rarely do they do justice or add even a modicum of improvement to the original.

I am more than disappointed with the current state of Hollywood, in which big-budget remakes have been the rage for 20 years. Now, they seemingly dominate the output of the big studios.

It is no surprise to anyone then, I only deigned to cover a remake twice in the past three years of writing these reviews. I wasn’t overly impressed by the results in either instance.

So, why do I now stray from what the voice in my head tells me is the one true path? In part, because I recently watched a remake that struck me as a perfect vehicle to illustrate why they are anathema. Also, because it nonetheless happens to have some very cool cars in it. The film? The 2007 reimagining of the classic ’80s highway slasher movie, The Hitcher.

The Hitcher theatrical movie poster. (Image courtesy of Rogue Pictures.)

The original film, released in 1986, was a co-production of HBO Pictures and Silver Screen Partners distributed in the United States by Tri-Star Pictures. First-time Director Robert Harmon helmed the picture, based on an original screenplay by first-time Writer, Eric Red. The movie starred C. Thomas Howell, Rutger Hauer, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell star in the 1986 original. (Photo courtesy of Tri-Star Pictures.)

The movie tells the story of Jim Halsey (Howell), a young man who escapes the clutches of a psychopathic hitchhiker named John Ryder (Hauer). Ryder then stalks Halsey across the highways of Texas and ultimately frames him for the murders of dozens of people. Halsey is aided by Nash (Leigh), a kindly stranger who knows he is being set up.

The 2007 version of The Hitcher is a co-production of Focus Features, Intrepid Pictures, and Michael Bay’s company, Platinum Dunes. It was directed by seasoned music video helmer Dave Meyers, based on a script by Jake Wade Wall, Eric Bernt, and the writer of the original film, Eric Red. The movie stars Sean Bean as Ryder, Zachary Knighton as Halsey, and Sophia Bush as a new character, Halsey’s girlfriend, Grace.

Sean Bean, Zachary Knighton, and Sophia Bush take over the lead roles in the 2007 remake. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features.)

The plot of the newer film is relatively the same as the original, and some scenes are even lifted directly. It’s the manner in which the two stories are told, and subtext and themes that come out of it, where things deviate vastly.

The original film is essentially a suspense thriller aimed at an adult audience, but can also be viewed as an allegory on the nature of good and evil. Ryder represents a demon or even the Devil himself; an unstoppable force of evil determined to torment Halsey, the meek and powerless coward. He frames Halsey for one murder after another, attempting to taunt him into action.

Ryder’s machinations succeed in transforming Halsey by the end of the movie, who seeks deadly vengeance against his pursuer after he murders Nash in a particularly brutal fashion. The viewer is left with the understanding that the Devil prevails in the end, as he instilled a new-found bloodlust in the former coward.

All of this is achieved at a rather laconic pace, with violence often implied, and suspense building like a teapot ready to boil. Characters are examined, relationships are built, and causes beget effects.

The new version relies on gratuitous violence and car crashes galore instead of suspense. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features.)

The newer film is chock full of blaring Nine Inch Nails tracks, flashy camera work, a cut every three seconds, and willingly dispenses with all of it. In lieu of subtext, we are served a pointless slasher film aimed at a millennial audience, with all the requisite buckets of blood, gratuitous violence, and gnarly car crashes needed to numb the senses.

No time is wasted on developing characters, no intricate relationships are built, and things often just seem to happen without motive or impetus. Everything is as shallow as a kiddie pool. Choosing a music video director, someone who specializes in superficial imagery without context, perhaps wasn’t the best choice to steer this ship.

Halsey’s ride in the new version is one of my favorite muscle cars – a 1970 Olds 4-4-2. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features.)

The only facet in which the ’07 version has the goods on the ’86 film is in the form of cars. The earlier film had nothing of interest in terms of automotive offerings, but the newer one manages to shine.

Halsey’s ride happens to be one of my favorite vintage muscle cars, a 1970 Oldsmobile 4-4-2. I’ve always been intrigued by them as much for their power and styling, as for their relative rarity compared to Chevelles and the like. 4-4-2’s have that “also-ran” cool factor about them. It’s somewhat akin to the AMC AMX – a muscle car that never made the limelight but is seen today as a gem of an era gone by.

Now that’s what I call grille work. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features.)

Halsey’s Olds appears to be Viking Blue, and has full-body white racing stripes. It also seems to have the W25 fiberglass hood with those menacing dual scoops, and clearly has a Hurst shifter. Hearing the glorious rumble from its 455ci V8 is almost worth putting up with the other hour and a half of crap in the movie.

I always love some Bandit Trans-Am. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features.)

Another special car seen briefly in the film is a 1981 Pontiac Trans Am dudded up like you’d want it – in Bandit Black and Gold, with T-tops, and iconic Screaming Chicken on the hood.

A super-cool ’79 El Camino also makes a quick, but memorable, appearance. The 4-4-2, Trans Am, and Elco all sadly get destroyed in the film – something I also wish Hollywood would stop doing.

Hollywood needs to stop trashing vintage cars. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features.)

I’m aware of the fact this month’s review deviated from my norm and reads more like a rant than a review. Even film fanatics of the most even-keel must sometimes vent their frustration at the drivel Hollywood often wants to purvey.

There is an immense disparity between the quality of the filmmaking and that of the cars in this one. So, I’ll also deviate from my norm and give The Hitcher two ratings: I’ll give the film four-and-a-half out of ten pistons, and the cars eight out of ten.

Now go and watch the original.

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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