Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Hitcher (1986)

Jennifer Jason Leigh's second consecutive picture with Rutger Hauer, following Paul Verhoeven's 1985 grimey medieval adventure Flesh & Blood, doesn't bode well for their future together as the next Bogart and Bacall, Haim and Feldman, Swayze and Grey, etc. Spoiler alert!!!! I said spoiler!!!! The movie is 22 years old, I should'nt have to worry about spoiler warnings, but here ya go. Last time. Fucking Spoiler alert!!!! Ok, now that I have your attention, ready for this? You have every right to skip to the next paragraph if you haven't seen the picture. I mean, it's been a couple of decades already.....if you haven't seen it by now, it's probably not gonna happen. So, anyway, I can see why Leigh and Hauer didn't go on to become the silver screen's next great dyanmic duo, couple, or whatever. It probably has something to do with him tying her between two big rigs and then turning one on and taking his foot off the clutch so it slowly rolls away tearing her in two. For no real reason other than to fuck with Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell). It's just a motiveless horrific crime against the incredibly cute Leigh with the incredibly cute name, Nash (only on a girl). It's not surprising to learn that they didn't work together again after this one. Also, I wouldn't really consider them a couple...or a duo. End spoiler.

Aside from the fact that the killer (a terrific Hauer) has no reason for doing what he's doing, this is a pretty good picture. It's like if they had taken that movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and dressed it up as an action-thriller, with plenty of horror elements; finger in french fries, unstoppable killer who seems to have the supernatural ability to be in all places at once, a poor sap (that would be Howell) framed for a series of crimes he hasn't committed, a dog licking up the blood of it's dead master, etc.

C. Thomas Howell plays a young kid just trying to make his way to California in a "drive away" (term used for a car that someone is hired to deliver). Hauer is the hitch-hiking drifter picked up by a sleepy Howell. As soon as they pass an abandoned VW Bug and Hauer comments on the former driver no longer possessing his legs, his arms, or his head, Howell wonders if he made a mistake. Later, when Hauer holds a switchblade to his balls, he wonders even harder. Soon, Howell sees his chance to escape a painful death and takes it by flinging Hauer out the door and onto the pavement as he speeds away. End of movie.

You wish. We're not even fifteen minutes into the thing yet. What follows is an epic cat and mouse game where Hauer is not really just a cat. He's a big fucking cat. A Lion that chews on a mouse without killing it and then bats it around for a while. This movie is vintage 80s. It is new wave pop. You couldn't make this movie today in an age where people no longer hitch-hike and don't leave home without their cell phones. Oh wait, they did remake it. Still haven't seen it. Hauer is one of the great screen villains as John Ryder. He's like if John Matrix, Casey Rybek, and John Rambo decided to have sex with each other and then one of them drifted across the american southwest killing people randomly. This movie would be the result. This guy, Ryder, is one fucking evil action hero. He steals a truck, blows up a gas station, shoots a helecopter out of the sky with a pistol, attacks and decimates a police station Terminator-style. The only thing about him I didn't appreciate was the neediness. He needed to be Howell's center of attention (hence, the horrible fate given the picture's only female character...oops, forgot spoiler). Howell-Hauer develop some sort of twisted symbiotic relationship where one becomes the other. It's "reprehensible" (according to Roger Ebert in his 0 star review). I'd counter that It's a movie. Motives are for "Law and Order SVU".

I thought the portrayal of the cops in this thing was interesting. Jeffery DeMunn (The Blob, The Mist, "Law and Order SVU") is a veteran movie cop. Besides Leigh, he might ultimately be the only other sympathetic character. Of course, he only shows up for the last 10 mintues or so. The other cops ranged from "any fool can see this kid's no killer" to "you spit on my gun ass-wipe, now wipe it off so I can blow off your god damned head and claim you lunged at me". The majority of the cops fell into the first camp, so I found that a bit refreshing.

I wish I could say more about Leigh's character, but she really wasn't in it too much. She bought into Howell's innocence from the start and then they hit the road together for a bit, trashed a few cop cars along the way and slept togehter (without the sex or nudity) in some seedy desert hotel room. That's it. I'm thinking the writer, at the time anyway, wasn't sure how to write parts for women so they just got someone imcomporably cute and talented like Leigh and hoped for the best. Speaking of the writer, Eric Red went on to pen the screenplays for Near Dark, Blue Steel, and Body Parts. He's a talent alright. The director, Robert Harmon, unfortunately didn't do shit worth noting after this one (I haven't seen Wes Craven's They. Any thoughts?). It's a shame because this one's damn good. Everything from the desert photography, to the performances, to the action scenes (including a pretty sweet car-helicopter chase). If only he hadn't made a picture that was so "diseased and corrupt" (Roger Ebert again).

Well, I'm fucking up the month of Halloween. I was supposed to increase my review output atleast two-fold. Also, this thing is only borderline horror...and most of the tense scenes occur during the day except for that one where Jennifer Jason Leigh is tied between two trucks and torn in half by crazy old Rutger Hauer.


elmo said...

Ah, this movie sounds irresistable- I'm renting the crap out of it!

brian said...

I'm anxious to hear your thoughts on this one. Like immediately.