Sunday, June 23, 2013

REVIEW: The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting (2003)

If there was anything the world needed, it was a direct to video sequel to The Hitcher, made almost 20 years later. Oh, wait, it’s not opposite day. My bad…

Director: Louis Morneau
Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Jake Busey, Kari Wuhrer

So we start off with something totally different from the original film: a rainy setting where a car picks up a hitchhiker! Oh wait, it’s still not opposite day…man I’m bad at this. To be fair, the situation IS pretty different. It’s actually revealed to be a kidnapped child, and the guy driving is his kidnapper. The kidnapper gets shot by C. Thomas Howell, who I am surprised actually returned for this. Take a guess if Rutger Hauer came back or not…

So yeah, Howell’s character Jim Halsey is now a cop all these years later. Funny, considering the last interaction he had with the police in the first movie was when he held one of them up at gunpoint and stole his car. You would think that would sorta bar one from entering into the police academy and becoming an officer of the law. Isn’t it kind of like a church burning black metal musician becoming a Lutheran minister?

Oh, maybe he DIDN'T fall too far from the tree after all...

Either way, Jim kills the kidnapper and then flies away in his plane to go see his girlfriend Maggie. Yeah, he has a private plane, a little Wright Bros-esque number that I’m surprised the police department just lets him fly around to catch criminals in. He actually tells Maggie that yes, he did find that child kidnapper by flying around in the plane, so I’m not making that part up. This whole thing has a very carnivalesque superhero feel to it now. Like Jim Halsey is Robin Hood or something…only he can afford a private plane.

Yes, I'm so sure we have a reason to be afraid of this ominous tracking shot...I'm sure it's NOT AT ALL a red herring...

Yeah, this plot point isn’t going to be very important to the film, so I can just skip it I guess. Maggie makes a huge deal about Jim killing that kidnapper, and I really don’t get why. I mean yeah, he killed someone; it sucks by default. But at the same time…he killed a CHILD KIDNAPPER. Possibly a molester and a sex offender, too; let’s just assume. Why is this such a big deal? Maggie’s words are “You can’t just go around shooting people all the time!” I’m sorry, but how is killing ONE man who KIDNAPPED A CHILD the same thing as “going around shooting people all the time”? Yes, Jim. Listen to your girlfriend. Please stop killing horrible murderers and child molesters. That’s just so rude of you.

I love how they're sexualizing her after she's been working underneath a plane and probably smells like a BP oil spill right now...

After some dubiously silly and unbelievable acting, Jim decides that they need to go back to that desert road where the first movie took place to talk to his friend Sheriff Esteridge, now retired. Esteridge tells him over the phone that maybe it’s time to come back and revisit the past, and face his fear…I’m sorry, WHY?! What’s the gain? To talk to his old buddy about killing that kidnapper? I just…don’t think that reason is strong enough to justify an entire movie!

But, sigh, they do end up going, and of course it takes them all of five minutes to find a hitchhiker, which Maggie insists that they pick up, because a sandstorm is coming. I just love this character’s sympathies: she’s all for the child molesters and the hitchhikers! Truly America’s most under-represented, oppressed minorities! Jim is suspicious and has numerous flashbacks to the first movie again. Which honestly begs the question, why. Why are you watching this? Why not just go watch the first one again? The flashbacks make it painfully obvious even this early in that the original will be the better film when this one is over. So why? Just turn this off now, pop in the 1986 classic The Hitcher and you’ll be much better off for your time.

So, yeah, the hitchhiker guy is played by Jake Busey, because yeah, when I think of classic horror villains, I think of Jake Busey right next to Rutger Hauer from the original. Sure. Keep on living in your fantasy land, movie. Busey doesn’t seem threatening or creepy like Hauer did in the original, so it’s more ambiguous for a few minutes. Halsey screams a lot and acts like a jackass, and kicks Busey’s character out of the car anyway, prompting Maggie to get all self-righteous again. Why do I get the idea this is the kind of relationship where she picks out his shirts and socks every morning?

Of course Jake Busey IS the new killer in this film, which is revealed a few moments later. And honestly, the problems with this compared to the original are so boldly underlined, it’s practically able to be seen from space. The original movie worked because it was all so spontaneous and random. Jim was stranded out in the desert with this guy he just met trying to kill him. He was just passing through, just driving his rental car across the country. In THIS, Jim actively seeks out the desert road again, and so the spontaneity is lost. If a character knows where he’s going, and intentionally goes, the fear and the surprise just aren’t as great. In a better movie, maybe this could have worked – maybe if Jim was trying to hunt down the Hitcher again all these years later and kill him, after hearing of some similar murders in the same area. But the way it’s done here just feels contrived and forced.

"If I show my teeth and look constipated enough, maybe people will be engaged by my character!"

They are forcing this plot to happen. How do we get Jim back in the desert years later after he naturally would move far away? Well, it’s simple, just invent a flimsy excuse and have him go back! Nothing just comes naturally the way a good plot does – these are manufactured, doctored thrills forced into being by C-rate writing just to get to the end of the goddamn script.

Case in point: you remember how the original was relatively fast-paced and ambiguous as to what the Hitcher was doing? How he kept to the shadows and only appeared in short bursts here and there to incite violence? How his framing Jim for murder was understated and didn’t seem too obvious? Well, that’s all out the window here. One of the first things Jim points out to Maggie is that the Hitcher always tried to frame him for crimes. Well, here that plot point is hammered in until you just don't care. It's totally without subtlety. Busey’s Hitcher makes a wimpy phone call to police misleading them about Jim and Maggie. He tells the police that Jim and Maggie are going to kill Esteridge as opposed to just going to talk to him. When Jim and Maggie get there, of course Busey has somehow magically just killed them, in really vague and boring ways…certainly not the masterful suspense set up in the first one when Jim came across the abandoned family station wagon after Hauer was done with it.

The first movie's killer killed people and was enigmatic and fearless. This guy is the equivalent of a phone-pranking douchebag with too much time on his hands. Great killer, movie; great killer.

I’m sorry – I know I’m just bitching about how much lamer this is as compared to the first one. But it’s just no comparison. This movie is simply a dumber, less interesting version of the first one. Nothing feels subtle or mysterious anymore. Everything is boldly defined and spelled out like the audience is dumb. Oh, is Busey trying to frame Maggie for his own killings? Please, movie, hammer that fact in until the whole plot just seems completely neutered and bland.

I guess if I’m going to continue actually summarizing any of this, Jim gets killed off by Busey from a couple of gunshots and dies in the desert. Maggie is the main character now and she walks around for a bit and then gets knocked out by Busey, who puts her in some kind of old water tower that’s about to fall down. He points out – he actually says it – that the water tower is about to fall. So, how exactly the hell did he carry a grown woman up it and put her in without it collapsing? I just love when a movie verbally states its own plot holes.

Maybe he can fly now. It honestly wouldn't surprise me. They've already surpassed the original in implausible scenarios and ridiculous kills...might as well just throw all realism to the wind.

She gets out of that with very, very little suspense, and while the desert settings are all very nice, I’m just so bored. There’s no danger in this! Where is the sense for the epic? Where is the fast paced adventure and high speed explosiveness? Even when the movie does speed up and try its hand at that, it comes off as a cheap imitation, sluggish and sort of drunk. Like if the first Hitcher got washed up and fat. Maggie isn’t interesting at all, far away from the fiery performance C. Thomas Howell gave in the first one, and Busey is just a joke, coming off more like a college frat boy playing pranks than a menacing, unpredictable killer.

There’s one scene where he pops up from behind a diner counter like a Jack in the Box, and then cuts his own finger off and throws it in a pot of boiling water nearby. Is this a Freddy Krueger movie now? It’s just completely retarded!

Eh, still better than The Dream Child.

The cops arrest Maggie for all of that shit and the Sheriff actually talks reason, and gives us another big glowing neon sign as to why this sequel doesn’t work and the original DID work: Maggie has family and friends, and a job. People back home can verify that she is who she says she is, and that she has no reason to do any of the crimes Busey is framing her for.

In the original, Jim Halsey was a shifty, slightly rebellious loner whose only familial contact couldn’t BE reached and had no ID or anything because the Hitcher stole them from him. There was fairly reasonable suspicion as to his innocence, and the way Hauer's killer character played things, you could see why Halsey would be under scrutiny. And as it was 1986, the communication fields were shaky enough as it was – there wasn’t a lot of ways to go check up on any of his stories. This is 2003. There are ways to PROVE beyond a doubt that this woman would have NO reason or cause to commit such crimes. Hell, pick up a phone and make a call, you morons! I'm fairly sure her identification wasn't stolen at any point either, which makes this extra stupid. If these cops used their brains, they would see that the woman in front of them is really not very suspicious at all, and couldn’t do anything she’s being accused of.

But I guess dumbass small-town cops need a reason to exist, and so they just ignore all logic and say, yeah, some crazy guy with no background and no alibi for anything is accusing a well-to-do woman from a civilized place of gruesome, insane crimes? Must be legit! No reason to actually think and investigate at all, is there? That stuff’s for nerds!

"We don't really like using our brains in police work out here. It's just not the true way of the desert cop. We just hate actually thinking about motive and plausibility, and instead just arrest the first person we find without asking questions. Truly we are the greatest cops ever."

The Sheriff does believe her though. Which could have proved for some drama, if Busey didn’t kill him two minutes later, in a very unspectacular manner. What ensues is…

Okay, I guess this COULD have been cool...but here it's just dull and ridiculous, frankly, and I'm not sure how they managed to make a plane chasing a truck evoke that reaction.

…proof that the movie just doesn’t give a shit. In their attempt to one-up the crazy chase scenes from the original, we get a really boring and implausible scene where Maggie steals a small plane and chases after Busey, who is in a truck. I guess it’s not the worst ever, but come on. It’s stupid.

We do get one kind of cool scene when Maggie knocks him out and then ties him between two trucks, like Rutger Hauer did to that girl in the first one. It’s…a bit silly, yeah, when you consider that neither of these characters had anything to do with that film, but it does create some atmosphere and is the only part of this whole mess where I got any tension or anger between these two.

But of course the stupid police show up, and even though Busey has killed several of their own now, they still go for Maggie and fire at her, thinking Busey is innocent. I love how he puts on the innocent act when the cops arrive, saying that Maggie attacked him for no reason and what not. It’s practically closer to an 80s Ferris Bueller-esque comedy than a horror film. What a joke.

Cue the "wah wah" noise.

So that’s The Hitcher II. What a bland pile of blandy blandness. I guess some parts are alright, but really, that’s only because they ride the success of the original so hard. Most of this is just pointless, as it copies the original note for note and isn’t near as good. It’s a dumb, vapid flick that won’t leave an impression on you when it’s done, except for minor annoyance at how hard it failed to replicate anything that was good about the original – in fact, a lot of the time it’s like they were actually trying to do the opposite of what the original did. I guess it IS opposite day.

But this is only a minor offense…a pedestrian annoyance.

Beyond this petty misdemeanor of a film lies a much greater evil; a primordial and demonic entity that mortal men tremble before…THE REMAKE!

Run for your lives!

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