'The Hitcher' — Have gun, will travel 

The Department of Transportation estimates that 42,000 Americans die every year on the nation’s highways. That figure would soar dramatically if guys like John Ryder existed. Ryder, a resourceful loner with an insatiable appetite for sadism, takes roughly 20 victims in "The Hitcher" — an impressive feat, given that the movie is barely 80 minutes long.

Inspired by the creepy 1986 thriller starring Rutger Hauer, "The Hitcher" is the latest addition to a growing list of remakes, further proof that Hollywood’s horror elite have run out of new ways to scare. This time around, the formula has been tweaked ever so slightly — instead of a killer relentlessly stalking a young man, the updated version has him terrorizing a young couple.

It’s a convenient twist that sets up another cliché of the genre, the alpha female who survives after all the men have been sent to the slaughter.

That role is ably inhabited by Sophia Bush, who retains an air of toughness as she scampers about in various states of undress. Equally strong are Zachary Knighton, as her well-meaning but ineffectual boyfriend, and Sean Bean, who plays Ryder, the Jack Bauer of serial killers.

Ryder is the consummate bogeyman; impervious to pain and virtually impossible to kill, he is resilient, cunning and blessed with an almost supernatural gift for tracking down and murdering his prey.

As in the original "Hitcher," Ryder has no motive, save for the pleasure he takes in inflicting pain. The same can be said for the movie.

"The Hitcher" is tense and gripping to a point, but it loses steam and credibility when Ryder completes his transformation from sociopathic man to unstoppable monster. At that point, it becomes a glorified geek show, stuffed with sensational viciousness but lacking any sense of purpose. It is gore for the gore’s sake, cheap and pointless.

The Hitcher **

Starring Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton, Neal McDonough

Written by Eric Red, Jake Wade Wall, Eric Bernt

Directed by Dave Meyers

Rated R

Running time 1 hour, 23 minutes

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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