The film follows a young man, Jim (C.Thomas Howell), who is making his way from Chicago to San Diego to deliver a car. He unwittingly picks up a psychopathic hitchhiker, John (Rutger Hauer), and soon comes to regret it as an escalating cat and mouse game ensues. It’s a shallow story that doesn’t necessarily explore anything in real depth. Furthermore it’s full of continuity errors and unexplained circumstances, which would have benefited from some thorough editing. Ironically, the film’s editor Frank J. Urioste would then go onto projects such as RoboCop, Die Hard and Basic Instinct. Yet for all its flaws the film still presents the intensity and suspense that a successful thriller requires. It’s further helped by Robert Harmon’s decision to focus on the action elements rather than an intricately constructed piece of cinema that would honestly add nothing. The persistent car chases, shootouts and tense negotiations never leave the audience in a state of tranquility, instead the film batters the audience into submission until its left like its protagonist, exhausted and bruised. And that’s a good thing.
Rutger Hauer single-handedly steals the entire show, and truly does an amazing job. From massacring a family, to shooting down police helicopters, he continues his soft-voiced approach with glee glimmering from his eyes. Owing influence from The Terminator, and building elements from his performance in Blade Runner, Hauer poses a persistent threat that has a disregard for anything other than terrorising Jim. Meanwhile C. Thomas Howell’s performance is competent but nothing special. His transformation from a wimpy, youngster to a frantic, almost psychotic mess is rather mundane and cliche, but serves its purpose. Even amidst the lack of any significant character development, there is an interesting chemistry between the two that offers some gripping confrontations and exchanges.
The Hitcher is a gripping action-thriller, lead by a memorable Rutger Hauer, that manages to breach through the layers of imperfection. I can understand the lacklustre critical response from an “logical” standpoint, but as a fan of the Thriller genre this rates high on the “enjoyment scale”.