On the very loose chance I jet off around the country on some form of horrid road trip, hitchhiking will not be the way to do it. While I didn’t need much convincing of those overwhelming negatives, The Hitcher did much to quell any sense of interest or spirit to come from happenstance encounters, barrelling my way across the country. There are only so many drivers willing to put up with me at the helm of the AUX cable, and usually, they tire of it rather immediately. Still, flash us back to forty years before and find yourself on the road with Rutger Hauer. He is the titular hitcher. The man to be feared and one to escape from.
The Hitcher reminds me quite heavily of Spielberg’s Duel, only the difference here is that we see inside the villainous mind of Hauer’s John Ryder. A glimpse inside of the truck or car he manages to commandeer for himself. His aims and goals in the film seem rather primitive and simple, without much direction behind them at all. Yet they are presented with such venom that it works superbly well. Most of the scenes that feature Hauer boil down to a man toying with his prey. He never seals the deal, and I never expected him to do so, but there are only so many times you can have the man light a match or push our protagonist off of the road before it starts to get a tad repetitive.
Effectively, that is where The Hitcher falls apart. What it has in common with Duel is the deadly game of cat and mouse. Where it differs is how such a plot is executed. While Jim (C. Thomas Howell) is the sort of amicable, flatlining leading protagonist found in many of these 80s thrillers, it is a shame that he does not tally up to anything more than a series of expressionless tropes. He is vaguely happy, delivering a luxury car from Chicago to California, and the good-hearted willingness to pick up a stranger down on his luck gives him a depth and likeability. Or at least, it should, and had there been more to it than that then it would arguably have worked much better. Robert Harmon offers little else with his direction. He seals the deal too early, too vaguely, and does not give either cat or mouse enough time to develop.
Even then, it is hard to go in on The Hitcher. It is never masquerading as anything more than that game of predator and prey. Justifying its characters is not an issue, for the film and story is so simple. Yet that is the issue. Simplicity is good when wishing to detail your characters or themes, but Harmon is not interested in that. More credit and power to him, for he has crafted a solid enough foundation that he seemingly has no interest in investigating. It is good enough entertainment and has its moments, but The Hitcher never hikes its way up to truly remarkable or memorable. A frustrating shame, since all the pieces of the puzzle are present.