"The Hitcher" is a so-so film that desperately wants to be a killer music video. Starring Sophia Bush (that One Tree Hill girl who is so pretty it makes my eyes water) and Zachary Knighton (I'd never heard of him before, but he looks like the type who'd date Sophia Bush), the film wastes no time with pleasantries. The two lovers hit the road, and then the road hits back.
The road in my oh-so-clever analogy turns out to be John Ryder, the hitcher, a man with a grudge against life. Literally. In one of his first lines of the film, Ryder admits that the reason he tortures, maims, and kills people is because he wants someone to stop him. This sort of Swiftean take on nihilism is often used by scriptwriters to give a character license to indulge in flat-eyed melodrama (emotive beef jerky, I call it), but Sean Bean -- as the unflagging madman -- lets his desperation and his senseless rage simmer without boiling over into false theatrics. Bean is really the reason to watch this film.
It's too bad he's not in it more than he is. Most of the time we are forced to watch Bush and Knighton wander around making typically bad decisions and then griping or whining about it to each other when there's a break in the action.
I don't blame the actors. These sorts of brash bonanzas of violence and destruction don't really need much in the way of plotting to do their job, but they do need some kind of decent writing. I mean, take a look at Spielberg's Duel. For a movie with such a minimal plot and perhaps two pages of dialogue, this film works macabre magic. "The Hitcher," in lieu of compelling characters and a solid build-up of tension has, instead, the rat-a-tat-tat subtlety (and pace) of a semi-automatic. Short bursts of loud chaos, interspersed with brief moments of silence. You don't want that barrel to melt.
I give the film a thumbs up for its dervishes, for the car chases (set to blaring Nine Inch Nails), the near-misses, and the bold direct hits (I'll admit that I was shocked and surprised by the scene with the semi-truck and the chains). But, just like the (lack of) beliefs of the title character, the movie doesn't seem to care about much of anything, making it easy for the viewer to feel likewise.