A little thumbs up, a lot thumbs down

A little thumbs up, a lot thumbs down

The Hitcher’ will take you on a wild ride with cheap thrills and gore galore

By Lisa Miller 01/25/2007

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“The Hitcher.” Directed by Dave Meyers. With Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton, Neal McDonough and Kyle Davis.


The typical serial killer operates by cowardly means, but “The Hitcher” is a killer's killer — unafraid to die. We know little about him, save he's searching for an adversary capable of delivering the coup de grace.

John Ryder's (Sean Bean) motivation is laid out in an early scene that places him in the car of two sweet-tempered college kids, Grace and Jim (Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton). As he menaces them with his big, bloody knife, Jim asks, “Why are you doing this to us?” Ryder replies, “Because I want you to stop me.”

Aside from his desire to be finished off by a couple of middle-class students, Ryder's ability to overcome pain is the one element of his psychology revealed. To set himself free from severely tightened handcuffs, Ryder breaks his own thumb with a crunching snap (bye-bye hitching tool!).

Remade from a 1986 slasher starring Rutger Hauer, this version screams for the meaningful insight into its titular character that was missing in the original. Sean Bean sculpts an obsessive killer unable to control his murderous rampage. Though he has no remorse for his victims, Ryder would rather be dead than controlled by his compulsion, so he selects Grace and Jim to put him out of his misery. As for the screenwriters, they too show no remorse for their victims: Viewers are condemned to 90 minutes of witless dialog.

The action, brimming with cheap thrills, fares better. Grace and Jim are in constant peril as Ryder taunts them with possible death, upping the ante by framing them for a dozen murders. Any armchair detective easily ticks off the mounting evidence indicating “these kids didn't kill nobody,” but only Lieutenant Esteridge, played by a cowboyed up Neal McDonough, figures it out.

Other Hollywood silliness depicts our heroes and villain sustaining incredible physical abuse, yet exhibiting no significant injury. Grace and Jim emerge unharmed after being run off the road and flying over a 10-foot embankment. Ryder resumes his killing spree unimpeded by being knocked unconscious after falling from a moving vehicle. Likewise, the hitcher's broken thumb does not prevent him from firing his rifle.

Can Grace and Jim overcome their bourgeois value system to kill Ryder before he kills them? At its very best, “The Hitcher” functions as a deprogrammer of misplaced inhibitions, but there is little “best” to contemplate. Grisly on a number of levels, the action depicts a vehicle squashing a cute bunny, a friendly dog lapping up its dead master's blood and the aftermath of a fatal attack on a family with two small children.

Disturbingly “The Hitcher” can't decide whether it wants to be pure entertainment, or also make its story appear socially relevant. Having hitched a ride on a mediocre original, any attempt at the latter is all thumbs.

“Smokin' Aces.” Directed by Joe Carnahan. With Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta. Failing to live up to its Tarantino model, this mobbed up, shoot 'em up comedy offs itself while failing to smoke during its second half. The setup establishes a tug of war between the FBI, protecting a federal witness and assassins itching to kill Sinatraesque showman, Buddy “Aces” (Piven). Prior to his date in Federal Court, the singer holes up in a Tahoe casino penthouse with two FBI bodyguards (Liotta and Reynolds). The film introduces more killers than pins in a bowling game, competing factions as eager to gun down each other as they are to plug Buddy. Forget the strike. The result is barely a spare.

“Blood and Chocolate.” Directed by Katja von Garnier. With Agnes Bruckner, Hugh Dancy and Olivier Martinez. It's a little bit “American Werewolf In Paris,” except for the Bucharest setting, the lack of interesting leads and the script without a shred of originality. Oliver Martinez appears as the alpha werewolf determined to take young pack member Vivian (Bruckner) as his mate. She bristles, having already fallen for human male, Aiden (Dancy). As tempers flare, Vivian is framed for several murders that endanger her entire pack. Also endangered are messy special effects too poorly done to qualify as camp.

“Catch and Release.” Directed by Susannah Grant. With Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Smith and Juliette Lewis. Gray Wheeler (Garner) mourns the loss of her soul mate when her fiancé dies suddenly. As she uncovers mind-boggling secrets about his life, Gray falls into a deep depression. With the help of her fiancé's nutty roommate (Smith) and an unexpected new romance, Gray begins to emerge from under the black cloud. Olyphant appears as a playboy exhibiting vulnerability, while Lewis has a prickly role as the other woman. It's great to see Smith caught delivering funny lines, and brilliant to release fey Fiona Shaw into this ensemble.

“Epic Movie.” Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. With Kal Penn, Jennifer Coolidge and Fred Willard. Back for another satire, the “Date Movie” guys send up “Chronicles of Narnia,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “X-Men” and “Snakes on a Plane.” Slapped together sans coherent plot or jokes, four orphans each win a golden ticket earning them the right to square off against the evil queen of Gnarnia, known as The White Bitch (Coolidge), and the half-lion Aslo (Willard). One thing's certain: There's truth in the saying, “Where Jennifer Coolidge goes, Fred Willard follows,” or is it the other way around?

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