First-time feature director Dave Meyers' tedious remake of Robert Harmon and Eric Red's lean, mean nightmare machine, in which icily malevolent hitchhiker Rutger Hauer gives high-strung brat packer C. Thomas Howell and brittle Jennifer Jason Leigh a guided tour of hell's highway, sticks close to the story but strips away the mythic allusions and subtle subtext that give the 1986 original its resonance.
The night is dark and stormy, the New Mexico road twisty and rain-drenched, the college cuties tired and distracted when a man appears out of the gloom, silhouetted in the headlights of his disabled car. Sensitive Jim (Zachary Knighton, of TV's short-lived Life on a Stick) swerves and brakes and reaches for the door — the guy might be hurt. Savvy Grace (Sophia Bush, of TV's One Tree Hill) has a bad feeling about the situation and tells him to floor it — they can call for roadside assistance later.
Of course, common sense and good decision-making are the death of white-knuckle thrillers. So when the college cuties stop at an isolated gas station and run into the mysterious motorist, Jim agrees to drive him to a nearby motel. It's only 15 miles north, and the stranger — John Ryder (Sean Bean) — is such a good sport about them nearly running him down; only some paranoid wuss who's seen too many scary movies would find his smile wolfish or his self-deprecating remark that he wouldn't give himself a lift portentous. But before you can croon "There's a killer on the road," Ryder has made the opening move in the sadistic cat-and-mouse game that will leave a trail of gore-spattered corpses in Grace and Jim's wake and convince the state police they've got a pair of natural born killers on their hands.
While screenwriters Jake Wade Wall and Eric Bernt tweak Red's richly pulpy screenplay without improving it (notably with a shopworn gender switch), the film's real Achilles’ heel is the cast. Bean carves out his own modest variations on the theme of John Ryder-on-the-storm, but Bush and Knighton are so blandly forgettable that it's hard to believe that they're the protagonists and not Victims No.1 and No.2. — Maitland McDonagh leave a comment