Riding the Bullet (2004) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, disturbing images, language, drug use, and some nudity
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Jonathan Jackson, Barbara Hershey, David Arquette, Erika Christensen, Cliff Robertson, Barry W. Levy, Jackson Warris, Jeff Ballard, Simon Webb, Matt Frewer
Director: Mick Garris
Screenplay: Mick Garris (based on the story by Stephen King)
Riding the Bullet marks the sixth time that screenwriter/director Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers, Psycho IV: The Beginning) has adapted a Stephen King story, but thus far, he has achieved mostly middling results. I can't vouch for how faithfully he adapts the story (originally written as an e-book, downloadable on the internet) of the same name, so I'll let King's fans squabble over that. Regardless, I'm really supposed to take the film on its own terms anyway, which makes the comparison superfluous.
Jonathan Jackson (Tuck Everlasting, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) gets the starring nod as Alan Parker, a suicidal college student in the 1960s, who has suffered his share of trauma in his life, with the death of his father, and dealing with a mother (Hershey, Hoosiers) that appears to have many health issues of her own. His most recent attempt at slashing his wrists ends up as fodder for the school paper, which seems the perfect time to lay low and hit the road an opportunity presenting itself in the form of his hospitalized mother. He decides to hitchhike his way there, but the drivers don't exactly make the trip as pleasant as he'd like, with pot-smoking hippie, crotchety crotch-scratching old man, gun-toting rednecks, a killer dog, and a mysterious driver of a 1958 Plymouth Fury (yes, the same as in King's Christine).
Riding the Bullet is a dark comedy that frequently alternates between fun to watch and downright annoying. The characters and situations are often amusing, with just the right amount of balance between the horror elements and the comedic. It's never scary in the traditional sense, but this film is strictly intended to be a fun ride, so don't take it seriously if you want to have a chance at enjoying it. Overall, there is a decent use of symbolism in the story (life is a roller coaster, etc.), decent acting by the players, and direction colorful enough to keep the action going. The one major flaw comes from Garris's insistence on playing the same scenes over and over in different ways, presumably for shock value or irony, but this technique is vastly overused here. Perhaps the material was a bit too thin to cover a whole movie as is (King's e-book was only a short story), so redundancy filled in the gaps.
Riding the Bullet is watchable, but not spectacular, so if you're into darkly comic horror films, it will keep you entertained enough to merit your time spent. It's uneven in spots, and just plain odd in others, but it works just well enough to smooth over the shoddy, nonsensical moments in the end.
©2005 Vince Leo