Monday, July 21, 2008

80s Revisited: The Hitcher

Looking back and such.

The Hitcher (1987)
Directed by Robert Harmon; written by Eric Red; produced by David Bombyk & Kip Ohman.

The Hitcher is, quite possibly, the worst movie ever made.

I don't even know how to approach it, but here goes. There is a basic plot: C. Thomas Howell plays Jim Halsey, a guy from Chicago taking a rideaway car out to San Diego. Somewhere in the desert he picks up a hitchhiker, John Ryder, played by Rutger Hauer. Now, picking up Rutger Hauer in the desert and giving him a ride seems like a sure ticket to hell, but it's okay, we didn't know that then. Ryder starts playing a little mind torture game with Halsey and threatening him with a knife, so Halsey manages to kick him out of the car and keep driving.

Of course, that's not the end of it. Ryder keeps playing this psychological game of predator and prey with Halsey. The thing is, there's a point to all of this and I can't really figure out what it is. I mean, what's the point here? Is it just nihilism? Is it supposed to be a meditation on the nature of chance and the way violence is inescapable? Is there some sort of homoerotic subtext going on? I'm not really sure what the point is, because it all leads up to a final moment that is neither surprising nor dramatic. What is the damn point of The Hitcher?

The movie is short on gore, but surprisingly long on intensity and pure psychological cruelty. Frankly, the movie loses me (as it did when I saw it in the late eighties) when Jennifer Jason Leigh gets pulled in half by a semi. Ryder has done this as a psychological test; he tells Halsey that if Halsey shoots him in the head, he'll be able to save the girl. But he doesn't. Even when someone's life is in danger, Halsey can't defend himself or anyone else. I guess this is supposed to be a very dramatic test of civilization versus instinct, but it doesn't come off. All I could think was, Look at all of the cops and EMTs and firefighters; no one has an axe to cut her free with? Give me a break, it's a semi. It's going to take him seconds to even get the thing moving, use those seconds!

A major problem here is that C. Thomas Howell is almost aggressively bland and one of the shittiest actors I've ever seen. His reactions are so over-the-top and cartoonish that I can't take him seriously as the character. Rutger Hauer is cool and intense and really looks like he's capable of slow and cold-blooded killing, which is Hauer's stock in trade (I fucking love Rutger Hauer). So the mental contest here is not only one-sided, it goes nowhere. It doesn't help that Ryder seems to be able to bend the laws of space, time and physics to just go in and fuck with Halsey's head.

I don't know, it just... what's the frigging point of this movie? It's not anything. It's just there.

Next time: looks like it might be Mannequin. Oy.


redleeroy said...

I saw this as a kid and remember loving it. I dont remember why. I saw it again recently, and although it was not great it still entertained me. I dont know why but I have a liking for C Thomas, maybe something to do with 'The Outsiders'.

Penh said...

I never liked it either, mostly because C. Thomas Howell's character is constantly stupid. It's one thing for a character in a movie to be stupid, because let's face it, there are stupid people out there. But when the entire plot hinges on that character being stupid in a specific way, and when the evil villain's plan completely falls apart if the victim doesn't pick one particular stupid option out of many better ones, I get pissed off. It's just lazy writing, dammit.

Captain Incredible said...

And yet there's a remake - was that pointless as well? I haven't seen it.

SamuraiFrog said...

Red: Howell isn't very good in The Outsiders, either, really, but the movie itself, Coppola, and the ensemble cast kind of carry him.

My sister saw The Outsiders and Young Guns when she was 9, and as a result I had to sit through a ton of movies with Howell and every other cast member of both movies (possibly why I haven't seen 24; I'm sick of Keifer Sutherland). This was one of the movies we ended up seeing; I probably would've eventually seen it because I love Rutger Hauer, but I can't get over how boring and padded the whole thing is.

Penh: Yes, stupid in a specific way. And lazy. That's all a great description of the basic narrative problem with the movie.

Captain Incredible: I haven't seen it either and, since they used the same script, I don't really want to. The only dramatic contribution of the new version seems to just be making the Halsey character a girl.

Johnny Yen said...

My god, he is bland, isn't he? I remember in Gettysburg I kept hoping for him to get killed.

And let's not forget Soul Man, one of the stupidest movies ever. It was also proof that James Earl Jones will work in any movie that will pay him.

SamuraiFrog said...

Oh, man, I forgot he was in Gettysburg, and that's one of my favorite movies.

My sister thought Soul Man was one of the funniest things she'd ever seen, and would watch it over and over and over. I kept hoping to find out James Earl Jones was going through a heavy divorce or owed the Mafia money... anything to justify that damn movie.

Brick said...

Before we were married, my wife and I rented this film because we like Rutger Hauer. We stopped after 30-45 minutes. The only film I walked out of a theater on was Straw Dogs. I couldn't sit through the boring parts until the violence started.

SamuraiFrog said...

I first saw Straw Dogs in high school and just didn't understand it. I saw it again years later and thought it was excellent. But Dogs had Peckinpah. The Hitcher has... some guy.

Incidentally, Becca's an even bigger fan of Rutger Hauer than I am, and she's never been able to make it through The Hitcher because it's so boring.