So you’re probably thinking, not again — not another remake of a horror movie.
Following recent reheated versions of “The Omen,” “The Hills Have Eyes” and “When a Stranger Calls,” an update of “The Hitcher” would seem needless. The 1986 original, starring a then hunky C. Thomas Howell, was actually pretty scary.
But you know what? This new one is, too.
You do have to suspend all disbelief and assume that the menacing hitchhiker, John Ryder (Sean Bean in the Rutger Hauer role), has the supernatural ability to be everywhere all the time, with increasing amounts of firepower. Oh, and that he can take out about 10 cops in patrol cars and a helicopter all by himself.
Still, if you choose to go with it, there are several good jumps and scares, and it’s surprisingly tense the whole way through, not just gory and cheesy.
What’s also surprising is that the film from Dave Meyers, one of the most prolific music video directors in the business (Missy Elliott’s “Work It” among hundreds), is an incredibly traditional, straightforward horror flick. He lets the brutal events play out for themselves and doesn’t try to overstylize them; having said that, the man also knows how to stage a gnarly car crash.
And in the overqualified Bean — best known as Boromir in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy — Meyers has a truly dastardly, twisted villain. The cragginess in his face lets you know immediately that he’s not someone you’d want to mess with, and that bright smile he flashes every once in a while only makes him look eerier.
Falling prey to this sinister stranger are scruffy Zachary Knighton and sexy Sophia Bush as college sweethearts Jim and Grace, who pile into Jim’s 1970 Oldsmobile 442 (why do horror movie victims always drive old cars?) for a spring break road trip from Texas to Lake Havasu, Ariz. This means they have to travel through New Mexico, with all its vast expanses and long stretches of brushy nothingness, dotted only by the occasional run-down diner or dreary motel. The perfect place to die some really horrifically bloody death.
Along their journey they run into Ryder — almost literally, during a torrential thunderstorm in the pitch black of night — who later weasels a ride out of them to a motel 15 miles up the road. Of course, he turns out to be a madman, but he’s also inordinately crafty; even after Jim and Grace manage to kick him out of the car, he pins a series of killings on them across the state.
The only person who believes Jim and Grace might not have been responsible for all this carnage is state police Lt. Esteridge (Neal McDonough). But in this surreal wasteland, where justice is as hard to ascertain as motivation, that probably means he’s a goner, too.
It’s enough to make you want to fly on your next vacation — it’s probably safer.