By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Chased by homicidal hitchhiker.
Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) who is driving from Chicago to California finds himself falling asleep at the wheel as he travels late at night down a lonely desert highway. To keep himself awake he decides to pick-up a hitchhiker named John Ryder (Rutger Hauer) who immediately begins to behave strangely. Jim manages physically kick John out of the car when his life gets threatened, but then notices that he is continually coming upon him as his drive progresses. Soon the police are after him thinking that he is the one committing the murders that are really being done by John.
This film manages to be a nice blend between Spielberg’s TV-movie Duel and the classic episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ in which Inger Stevens constantly sees the same hitchhiker as she drives her way through the desert. There are some really good suspenseful moments and a great performance by Hauer that almost makes up for its many transgressions, which unfortunately become more and more numerous.
Now, I did like this movie and tried to overlook a few of the logic loopholes, but eventually they become just too overblown. The biggest one is that John somehow manages to steel Jim’s wallet while also planting a knife on him that has blood from the victims that he has killed, but the only time they are together is when they are traveling in the car and I think Jim would’ve noticed John fishing through his pockets if that were the case. There’s also a lot of timing issues. For instance passengers stop and get off a bus to go inside a roadside café presumably for lunch, but then go right back into the bus just a couple of minutes later, which isn’t enough time for them to eat, go to the bathroom, or even stretch their legs. Another scene has Jim’s girlfriend Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh) getting kidnapped from her hotel room by John who somehow is able to enter the room without explanation and then takes her out to the parking lot and ties her up between two trucks before the police get called in and try to intervene, but this all occurs in seemingly only a couple of minutes as Jim is in the bathroom when he hears Nash being taken out and he quickly runs out into the parking lot only to see Nash already tied up and the police there.
There is also the issue of how is John able to escape out of a police van after he is caught and handcuffed, which the movie doesn’t even bother to explain or show. Another question some viewers have brought up is why is Jim driving through Texas anyways, which is where this all occurs, since it seems too far to the south from where he needs to go. Some have speculated that maybe he was going to the southern portion of California and therefore would need to pass through the Panhandle of Texas to get there, which is plausible, but the landscape is all wrong. I live in Texas and know that the panhandle region, which I’ve been to, is flat and green and has farmland while the place Jim goes through is barren, sandy and very much a desert.
The film wasn’t even shot in Texas, but instead done in the Mojave Desert in California, which made me wonder why the setting couldn’t have been there since that was supposed to be Jim’s ultimate destination anyways. Then I realized that the police are portrayed as being quite hick and redneck and since Texas unfairly still has that stereotype I’m sure that was the reason for why it was chosen.
The script could’ve certainly been better thought out, which wouldn’t have required the viewer to take such massive leaps in logic in order to enjoy it, but overall I still liked it. I think this was mainly because of Hauer who is terrifically creepy as well as for an extremely exciting car chase that features incredible stunt work and without relying on any of computerized crap either.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: February 21, 1986
Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes
Director: Robert Harmon
Studio: TriStar Pictures